Interviewed by Bishnupriya Chowdhuri
Ramakanta Samantaray, born in 1972, has studied painting at the Bibhuti Kanungo College of Art and Craft (Bhubaneshwar), and Odia Literature and Language at the Utkal University (Bhubaneshwar). His doctoral work was a meditation on contemporary theatre in Odia. With this combination of literature, language, and the visual arts, he has been constantly working to create hybrid narratives.
Apart from being a painter, he has also published fifteen books. He has written and published articles on art, artists, and monographs in Odia. He is a recipient of many awards for his short stories and novels. He has also received the Senior Fellowship, Ministry of Culture, Government of India , Junior Research Fellowship from UGC , New Delhi, and Travel Grant from Sahitya Akademi , New Delhi. He has participated in many national-level artist camps, conclaves, and seminars. He is researching on art and art history of Odisha in available archival material and is actively involved in alternative art education. Also, he has participated in several group shows in the major galleries of New Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata. The artist presently lives and works in Bhubaneswar.
This month, the editor-in-chief of The Antonym, Bishnupriya Chowdhuri, engages in a conversation with the versatile artist to know more about his inclinations, ideas, and inspirations! But before reading the interview, please have a look at some of his artworks in the following image gallery.
Impulses, perseverance, or practice: in what order of value do you place them in your artistic journey?
I always end up in the grip of impulses. So my efforts go into cross-controlling them in order to channelize in my creative process. Sometimes, when I am able to step aside and start analyzing them, they guide me to a new creation.
However, to produce a worthy piece, you cannot undermine the value of skill. I spend a lot of time attaining refinement but simultaneously, I also believe that ‘skill is not art’. I know it sounds paradoxical but that is how it is with me. To get comfortable with a skill, you must practice it, and perseverance is the key. My adventures in both facets of my life are comparable. I create art in all these various modes, even with words too…
So what makes ‘Art’ for you?
As a working artist, I’ve never given my process or ideology a clear-cut statement. Art is more than sketching on paper or painting on a canvas. For me, ‘Art is the Way’. The way you live, think, and arrange your beliefs. It cannot be separated from my persona. Art is what I am.
Can you point to a moment in your life where it all started? I mean the journey of your artistic self?
As a child, I used to be always intrigued by idol makers. Every year they would come to make clay idols of the gods and goddesses and I stationed myself at their base to observe the entire process, especially how the figures were developed and painted. I also had a keen eye for the decoration of the puja pandals and the ambiance.
I was born and brought up in a coastal village in Odisha. We didn’t have any co-curricular lessons on art or craft at school. Making art was commonly considered a waste of time, a worthless distraction. So I was not allowed to sketch at school or at home. I drew secretly. And then to maintain this secrecy, I had to destroy my drawings. Therefore, I don’t own any of my childhood artwork with me physically. Maybe because of the challenges, I was drawn to it even more and took it up as my life’s vocation!
Do you have a muse or favorite subject(s)?
Never did I limit myself to just one subject. My approach to practice has always been to explore different subjects in different ways. Sometimes it’s extremely personal and the next moment it’s out there. I read and write poems. The medieval mystic poetry tradition of my native state plays a crucial role. The abstraction in medieval poetry has inspired me deeply before. I love abstraction within figuration in my work and also art, in general.
For me, art making is a reflection of my personality. My very persona is the vocabulary of all my actions.
Who is your master?
No, I don’t think that way. It is not a single name. Rather, you can say I have many masters. I consider myself a student who is always open to learning new things. The Internet is flooded with information and different windows to acquire new skills. Life is an open university where we learn important life lessons from many lecturers. Simply be open and mindful of your mental and emotional energies.
Do you like to experiment or stay close to your choice of medium?
I love experimentation in both medium and content. I consider my art as an extension of my physical world. Yes, I love watercolor on paper more. For me, this has always been a comfortable medium. But I adore digital media too. Several times I use computer-manipulated images in my work; especially when I paint acrylic on big canvases. I usually transfer these computer-manipulated images into it mechanically. I do photography and most of these photos are used as references in my art. I also download lots of images from the internet. As I do art on diverse subjects, I experiment in different mediums too. My gesture on the canvas or paper is my experimentation.
Have you experienced a change of axis/transformation in your artistic style? Was it slow and gradual or sudden and surprising?
Many times. I never practiced any specific style or medium. I have adopted lots of styles. Sometimes it happens gradually and sometimes suddenly. It depends on my state of mind and various other factors. As an artist, I don’t like to express myself in only one way. As a human being, I am changing every day; my relationships, my surrounding landscapes, my home and studio, my philosophy on life and the drawing of my face, and my way of thinking… Everything is changing. Then how can my art express itself in a single manner and style?
Sometimes I love my art when it comes to me automatically and spontaneously as an image or as a line or as some abstract sign or shape. I also love it when the action on the surface becomes representational. If you come to know my body of work in total, I am sure you will find the different ways I work that complement each other.
Any contemporary artists you admire?
The list is really quite long. It spreads from an anonymous artist of our old miniature tradition to New York City. From African masks to contemporary museums. And the list also changes with time according to my practice, study, understanding, and perception. Recently, I have been quite intrigued by the works of CY Twombly, Agnes Martin, Jean Dubuffet, and David Shrigley. Also, Contemporary American Art and Mughal Miniature Painting are my recent obsessions.
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