Goan artist Laxman Pai is one of the finest artists of the 20th Century who has been attributed to putting Goa on the artistic map of the world. He is the first principal of Goa College of Art, recipient of Padma Shri and an inspiration for many artists. He is here in Goa and he is busy painting and recollecting his days gone by. In conversation with NT NTWORK he opens his heart to speak about his art, the Goa College of Art, Goa and its coconut trees
ARTI DAS | NT NETWORK
Meeting a legend like artist Laxman Pai is not an everyday affair. He is after all one of the finest Goan artists of the 20th century and the brain behind the Goa College of Art which was set up in the year 1977.
Pai who settled in Delhi and had recently moved to USA with his family, is now come down to Goa, where he is planning to stay for couple of years. He is now 90-year-old, but still paints and can finish a canvas within three days.
He has just finished a painting with square and curved forms. But, he has not named it yet. “I don’t like to give a title. Once you give a title you restrict it,” says Pai sitting comfortably at the backdrop of the painting depicting ‘Last Supper’ by Vamona Navelcar at art collector Shaistah Thapar’s residence in Dona Paula.
Thapar who is working on a museum on the works of Goan artists, says: “I found it quite sad that we tend to celebrate the works of Goan artists when they are dead and gone. So, I believe that they should get their due when they are alive.” Thapar also informs that the state government has finalised to reward Pai with the Gomant Vibhushan Award this year and is in the process of giving his name for the Padma Vibhushan Award.
During the Gomant Vibhushan Award ceremony there will be an exhibition of Pai’s work, where more than 70 of his works will be on display, from Thapar’s collection.
In an interaction with NT NETWORK Pai jogs down the memory lane where he speaks about his formative years, life at JJ School of Art, Goa College of Art and his love affair with Goa and its coconut trees.
Laxman Pai was born in 1926 at Margao. His tryst with art was initiated at his uncle’s photo studio called Mauzo Photo Studio in Margao. His job was to touch up the black and white photographs with paint. It was from here he got his sharp lines. At the same time in 1940s he was actively involved in the freedom struggle movement here in Goa. He was even arrested thrice during the agitation. “I remember the police used to beat me with a thick wooden rod. It used to swell my hands,” says Pai.
For these reasons his parents shifted him to Mumbai where he studied at the prestigious JJ School of Art from 1943-47 and was awarded the Mayo Medal in 1947. Reminiscing the olden days at JJ, Pai shares an anecdote: “The JJ School of Art at Mumbai is next to the Times of India building. I remember every afternoon cartoonist R K Laxman used to come for a stroll at the campus. It used to be very quiet and calm there.”
Soon after his studies he started teaching at the same institute. At the same time he was also part of the Progressive Artist Movement which was formed by six founder members, F N Souza, S H Raza, M F Husain, K H Ara, H A Gade, and S K Bakre. Others associated with the group included Manishi Dey, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta.
“I remember, once Souza painted a nude painting which was objected by the then chief minister of Maharashtra Morarji Desai. Due to my association I was demoted. I even wrote down a letter about it to the college, they then called me for a meeting and told me to drop the charges where I have accused the director. I declined. Then they expelled me. At that time Raza was in Paris, so I wrote him that I am coming there. He made all arrangements for me and I started studying art there. I learnt fresco, etching there.” In Paris he received training at the École des Beaux-Arts. He stayed there for ten years during which he held ten solo exhibitions in the city. His work was exhibited widely, including exhibitions in London, Munich, Hanover, Stuttgart, New York, Bremen, San Francisco, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Goa and São Paulo.He also learnt rosenthal porcelain art in Germany.
The works of Pai
From 1947 to 1950 Pai was largely inspired by Goan subjects and the concept of Indian miniatures. His initial works speak about the Goan way of life be it the ‘Zambaulim Shigmo’ or the painting depicting the process of feni making. His use of bright colours which is still present in his works speaks about the vibrant Goan nature, which he is fond of.
His earlier paintings were also inspired by ancient Egyptian sculptures with bodies that were portrayed front on with the faces in profile.
Another interesting aspect about Pai’s work is his association with music. When he paints he loves to listen to music. “I listen to Kumar Gandharva, as I like his tone and depth. I even enjoy Bhimsen Joshi. My choice varies. Also I find Kishori Amonkar very creative unlike Lata Mangeshkar who just interprets words,” says Pai while showing the paintings which he painted based on different ragas of the Indian classical music. In his works he gave a visual interpretation to the moods of the music as determined by the vibrations of the notes. He further shares that he used to play the basuri and sitar.
Goa College of Art
In the 1970s the artist Prafulla Dahanukar made a proposal to Pai to start the first art college in Goa. He not only accepted this proposal but also gave interesting insights which are in many ways is the foundation of the college. From the year 1977-87 he was the principal of Goa College of Art, Altinho, Panaji.
Pai says: “Actually I wanted to have this Goa College of Art next to Kala Academy, which is along the Mandovi River. I always believed that visual art and performing art should be taught together and thus that was the ideal place. But, Pratapsingh Rane rejected this idea saying that it will make the place very congested and gave us land atop the Altinho hill. It was architect Sarto Almeida who designed the college building and I gave him the brief that there should not be any compartments, but lot of open spaces.” Pai further states that he even gave a proposal to the government to make this place at Altinho as a hub for educational institutes by having architecture college as there was already Polytechnic College and also to shift Goa Reserve Police to Porvorim. But, he laments that never happened.
When asked about the role of a college and teachers in moulding an art student, Pai says: “College will teach you the grammar, but it is up to the individual to shine. College cannot produce artists as they can give you facilities.” He further adds, “The teacher should have a broad mind and they cannot be rigid and they should not impress their ideas on students.”
Adil Shah Palace as art museum
At the recently held Goa Assembly Session Art and Culture Minister, Dayanand Mandrekar, stated that work on the contemporary art museum proposed in the Adil Shah palace has been completed, and should be commissioned in August 2017. Mandrekar said as suggested by opposition leader, Pratapsingh Rane, they would seek advice from Laxman Pai about the contemporary museum, and its further development. On this point, Pai says: “I along with Mohandas Naik had given a proposal to start an art museum there. I was also supposed to donate few of my paintings to a section at the Adil Shah Palace. But, before that it is important that there are proper policies in place and also the budget. The art museum should not become a place just to dump paintings. But, proper work and study needs to be done on that.”
On the role of government in promoting art in the state, he states: “When you say government, it includes you and me also. It all depends who is in-charge to take that final decision.”
Being one of the finest Goan artists
Laxman Pai is the name which is fondly expressed along with other great artists like Angelo Fonseca, Vasudeo Gaitonde and FN Souza. On this point he says: “This is the job of art historians to analyse. It is nothing to do with artist. It is like doing post mortem of a person who is dead. Why is there a need to compare and analyse. You just take it as it is.” Pai who was the contemporary of FN Souza states that he was a rebellious artist, who liked to give you blows with his art and not to caress you.
When we broached the topic of FN Souza now being the most expensive Indian artist, Pai expressed that art auctions are business and has no relation with art. “It is like selling motor cars. You cannot avoid it, you like or not.”
Goa as his muse
A glance through Pai’s work and you get an idea that Goa is definitely is his muse. He however, loves to speak about coconut trees the most. There’s a twinkle in his eyes when he speaks about them and looking out from the window, probably to find a coconut tree, he says: “I like the coconut trees and the way they dance when the wind blows. They never fall.” He further shows the painting which is inspired from the coconut palms. It could be because of this reason he didn’t enjoy his days in USA as there were no coconut trees around.
Pai may fondly remember the Goa of his childhood, but he is practical enough not to compare it with today’s Goa. “Now Goa is a tourist place. I believe one should take it as it is. I don’t like to compare as then you don’t see the value of it,” concludes Pai.