Baiju Parthan, whose art is not only driven by creativity and passion but also digital curiosity and programming! The artist, who in search of purpose and meaning, found art.
Parthan, born in 1956 in Kerala has earned degrees in various fields, such as; philosophy, botany, fine arts and mythology. He has taken part in many solo and group shows in India and abroad. His works are in a part of many private collections, but is also on view for the public at the National Gallery of Modern Art- Mumbai (NGMA- Mumbai).
As a contemporary artist, Baiju has questioned various subjects from existential crises, genetically modified organisms (GMO), metaphysics, bilateral symmetry and more. In this article, we shall take up a few and get his insight on the same.
AA: How has your journey in art career been? Your first graduation was in engineering. What was your sudden inspiration?
BP: Actually, I left engineering studies after a year without completing the course. Quite some time ago, during a press interview, I said I set out to be an engineer and ended up as an artist. That statement created the misconception that I am an engineering graduate. Of course, the basics of engineering drawing I picked up during that time became a great help when I got into 3D graphics modelling later on, so it was not a waste of time. What inspired me to leave it and go for studies in art was my stumbling upon a book on western contemporary art by Harold Rosenberg ‘The Anxious Object: Art Today and its Audience’. It completely changed my perception of what art could be. From then on I saw art as a demanding intellectual discipline with its history of discoveries and inventions, and contemporary/modern artists as individuals engaged in a lifelong quest of discovering ways and means of understanding the world we live in. It was an intoxicating shift in perception from the notion that I held up to that moment that art is something that you do in your spare time for personal enjoyment. From then on nothing was holding me back, I had to be an artist. So that was the inspiration. And I dropped everything else and went on to study art.
AA: Please share your experience interacting with the western hippies in Goa during your education...how did that affect your way of thinking? (Age of reason) ("soft drug culture"- Metaflora)
BP: Encountering western hippies in Goa had a major impact on my thinking, mainly because I got exposed to books/literature that was not mainstream but was popular and essential reading for the dropouts. I got exposed to the works of Robert Anton Wilson, John Lily, Carlos Castaneda, Richard Alpert ( Ramdas), Terence Mackenna, and so on. That exposure kindled my interest in philosophy and Cultural anthropology. The curiosity about how and why cultural differences come into being and the role worldviews play in defining cultural identity etc. later on led to the interest in all kinds of fringe disciplines. I came of age in that environment, and it influenced the rest of my life.
Speaking of ‘The Age of Reason’ and Jean-Paul Sartre, I came across existentialism while in Kerala during the early ‘70s as a trend among the ‘intellectuals’. Existential despair was considered to be the sign that one has arrived at a particular intellectual threshold. So we twenty-something college students wore it as a badge of distinction and carried ourselves enveloped in a haze of existential despair without any comprehension of the damage it would cause. To be frank, my decision to pursue art as a lifelong endeavour and exposure to eastern schools of philosophy, fortunately, halted my trip down that ever slippery slope. Incidentally, I happened to mention Sartre and ‘The Age of Reason’ during an interview sometime in 2002 and it got highlighted as an important influence, which is not the entire truth.
AA: Your artworks depict diverse icons (signature motif- pears), symbols, visuals apart from the abstract pool. It seems you are on an unending quest. Your colour palette has always been vibrant. Please share your work process or if you will use your modus operandi/various (unique) mediums that you are known to use...
“My use of various symbols and signs is a fallout from my interest in anthropology and world views.”
Humankind defined as ‘Homo Symbolicus’, the animal or creature whose distinctive character is the creation and manipulation of signs and symbols which eventually led to the evolution of language, culture, the arts, and so on seem so obvious and fundamental that I tend to ignore academic and art historical conventions of art-making and go full swing fabricating symbols, metaphors, and icons and pit them against each other to generate tension and cohesion.
My method of working is closer to doing a research project, accompanied by a lot of reading up and exploring parallel streams of knowledge and information about symbols and archetypes, though the final result is a painting or 3D work instead of a research paper.
AA: You name your works very uniquely/ intensely- how do you come up with these names? (e.g. Aqua regia)
“The titles add yet another layer of complexity to the artwork.”
Because I tended to get acquainted with subjects and fields ( Ethnobotany, Alchemy, software programming, etc) that have nothing to do with art, I end up fabricating titles that are interesting combinations of concepts and references.
AA: You have also been significant in working with technology. How limiting or accepting or revitalising it has been in terms of tradition to modern to contemporary practices?
BP: When I look back at my formative years I recognize that I must have been very nerdy, though I was not aware of it.