17 Sep Shades of Dissent. What is Antonio Puri Thinking?
Our artist in residence, Antonio Puri ’84, is now quite a familiar figure at Woodstock. If he’s not focusing on his work, you’ll find him deep in conversation – dressed in paint-dabbed jeans. He has been working on his thought provoking ‘Varna’ project at school since the end of July. ‘Varna’ in Sanskrit loosely translates to colour and his work is based on the complex caste system or society-stratification based on skin colour in India. Most of our staff, students and employees have been involved in the making of this project and hence, according to him, they can take “ownership” for the art-works* that will be ready by end October. Puri now has a collection of swatches — of Woodstock’s skin colours —and digitally-captured eyes and is all set to incorporate them into his installations. People have reacted differently to his art. In our last ‘Varna’ article we brought you responses from Woodstock. It’s been harder getting one from Puri. He would rather have his art speak for him. Luckily for us, we managed to catch him in a chatty mood. Here’s what he’s thinking.
What are people’s reactions to your art so far?
Curiosity. They want to know what it means. They like the energy the art is bringing. They want to know if I’m interested in other projects. Students keep asking questions. There’ a little non classical education going on which includes somebody’s passion – a love for what they do. If every kid could follow their heart and do what they could be doing not only will they get a true education but they will also get joy in their life. I am hoping by being here and doing what I love has an unsaid benefit.
You are working on several installations here in school and in the local community. How does it all come together? Do you plan as you go? What is the common thread?
The common thread is me. My art is about me. It’s always about what I feel. I never have a doubt about what to paint or create. As long as you stay honest to yourself, you never have to think about it. You’re doing it. That’s how I feel. Or otherwise, I’m just the guy who never left finger painting!
You exhibited the Varna project in Baroda. Have you worked on this theme before that?
I have been working on Varna drawings for the past 3 years. I even painted some bodies with different colours to treat it like a map or a study of demographics that existed in a certain community and how that plays into the fact that we have different ideas of colour. This was in Philadelphia. An Asian, nonprofit, 12 Gates Gallery is interested in launching the Varna project there. We’re working on a time line when I can start the project incorporating the Asian community in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had been home for some years so I thought it would be an interesting place for such a project.
What do you think about art education in general?
It’s a contradiction in terms to me. I look at art differently. It’s not an extracurricular activity that somebody does. It’s more like a disease. Once you have it, you have it. You can’t get rid of it. And if you have it, you should stay true to yourself. Even if the whole world is against you, you have to do what your vision dictates. That’s art. It’s a piece of you. There’s no substitute or compromise. That is the education. You cannot compromise your passion in life. Skills can be learnt. But what an artist feels, wants to say is not learnt. It’s expressed. So my understanding of an art education is to allow more artists to be able to do what they want to do. E.g. allow more artists in residence or let students go visits other artists. Have some sort of interaction that’s different. It could be exciting for a non-artist to see this sort of passion and drive that an artist lives with. To see what propels them on. One has to follow one’s own dharma or spiritual duty to oneself – not to the rest of the world. That will give them the ultimate wealth of happiness. That’s much more important than only financial benefit.
In reality it’s hard for a young artist to get by. Do you ever feel being an artist is a privilege?
I don’t think so. You put 80 hours a week and you’ll learn to be successful. (I left law to be an artist) I’m living on my art for the last 14 years without any other income. I think it’s just about dedication. You can’t do it part time and expect to see results. Plus the whole idea of comfort and need is very different for different people.
I’m not in this only to make money. Money allows me to continue my passion and fortunately the universe is providing me with sufficient income to pursue it. My end goal is not how big my bank balance is but how many works of art I am happy with.
Do you hope to impact the world with your art?
I think it would be very presumptuous to think I can change the world. Hopefully if I follow my love with full force, perhaps that will have some impact. My goal is to self-express whatever I am feeling. So it’s very personal and hopefully non-judgmental. It’s a free-expression of whatever I’m going through.
Based on what you’re saying does it matter to you what people think about your art?
Their reaction to my art is their experience! It doesn’t really concern me.
Puri’s artworks* will displayed in the Business office entrance, the Quad area and Char Dukan.
Read more about Puri’s work at Woodstock
Read more about Puri : www.antoniopuri.com
Photos: Lalitha Krishnan