TSC Interviews | Juliet Reynolds | Part 3

Juliet Reynolds, well-known art critic and wife of the Hungryalist painter Anil Karanjai, met the editors of the Sunflower Collective at their Jor Bagh residence recently for a chat about her husband and his art, the art-world of India and in general, and the Leftist politics and its understanding of art. This is the final part of a three part series.

 A Portrait of  Ustad Ali Akbar Khan by  Anil Karanjai

JR: I know artists who paint their politics in their art.

AS: They make it very obvious...

GB: Obvious, yeah...

JR: Flag waving! Anil was against slogan-mongering in art.

GB: It’s across art I think...

JR: This was in the 80’s, he said it: “Art can be the propaganda of life.” He stuck by that. He felt it very strongly. There was a separation in his mind between what he did in art and those posters and things... He did those for many leftist organisations, or for PUDR (People’s Union for Democratic Rights); he designed their logo. Also, he did something on the rights of tribals; he did a sticker on it. He felt that was a part of his activism. He was using his skill as an artist for activism purposes. He wasn’t creating art; his art, he felt, was autonomous. He was very strict about that.

AS: But they did not get that?

JR: No, no, not at all. I don’t think anybody gets it to this day.

GB: Why did you think of leaving this place and go to Dehradun? Was it a gradual thing?

AS: A disenchantment?

JR: When my mother died, there was the possibility of buying something. But we didn’t have enough money to buy something in a nice part of Delhi. Neither did we want to live in a suburb. Anil had been to Dehradun because someone who used to deal in his work had connections there, a friend actually, one of the people who behaved quite nicely all along and gave a lot of support to Anil.

GB: He has many paintings of Anil?

JR: A lot of collectors who have Anil’s work have it through him. His name was Ashok Batra. He died a few years after Anil. It was a big blow to me. He was from Doon School. Through him, Anil got invited to do workshops in Doon School. Anil wasn’t particularly keen on that as he didn’t like the environment or what he was being paid, but he liked Dehradun. When the possibility came up to buy something, he said Dehradun was a good place as it was not too far from Delhi.

GB: It is written in your book that it was him who suggested it...

JR: It was his idea and not mine. I wouldn’t have thought of it. If I wanted to buy something, I would have gone straight to Goa. I like the sea; I was born by the sea; I loved the sea. But it wasn’t practical, I accept that, because of the distance. So that’s how it happened. It wasn’t that we had been thinking about it for years...but then he hardly got any time there.

GB: That’s what...

JR: The irony of it is that he got just one summer there.

GB: That’s what I have been thinking since I read your book.

JR: Just four and a half months.

GB: That’s very sad.

JR: Very sad and very ironic also.

GB: Very poetic in some sense, and especially the last phase of art that he did there...

JR: He was very prolific there.

GB: Yeah, you have written about it. It was quite touching, that part.

JR: Mostly small works but beautiful. Again, I can’t get anyone to understand that. Very few people get it. Even close friends and family... This is a great pity because I want to sell some works. I’ve got this trust in Anil’s name and I have no money in the account at all but this year I had to pay the accountant to file the tax returns! (chuckles) Nothing has happened all year, no transactions. I am not doing anything with it. The whole idea of the trust ...

GB: ...was to promote that?

JR: ...his memory plus doing this work with autistic kids.

AS: You mentioned his family and friends...

JR: Yes, they like the images but they say you must sell the oil on canvas. I don’t get it. Throughout art history, some great works have been done on paper, small works...it doesn’t always have to be the larger works, the oil paintings.

AS: They are only interested in the works on canvas?

JR: Maybe...one sells small works on paper at a lesser price, that’s fair enough. I’ve got such a collection of beautiful works in pastels. They’re exquisite. People should be buying them. If they want to fill their walls, they can buy more than one at a time.

AS: I would like to ask you if Anil had burned all his bridges with the Left?

JR: No. People like Vijay Singh – he is an academic but he edits Revolutionary Democracy – they had tremendous respect for him.

AS: Even Suneet Chopra of the CPM knew him well I think...

GB: I think what he is trying to say is that things can get pretty bad when you protest against the comrades.

JR: Earlier, he did not criticise them at all. They could do nothing wrong. I used to fight with him. Then I gave up. Anil and Suneet had ideological differences. Anil would curse the CPM and their attitude.  But Suneet did not have a problem. Suneet always admired Anil’s work very much. Suneet has written good pieces on Anil. Suneet was the one person who got it when Anil started painting landscapes. Anil had an exhibition, in 1991 I think. It was right in the beginning when he was experimenting with landscapes. They were difficult works; they were not so easy to like. Even I was like, oh my god, what’s he doing... But then this exhibition took place – I wasn’t here; I had gone to England to stay with my mother. But Suneet covered it for the Economic Times, I think. He got the relation between Anil’s work and Indian classical music. Anil was a great connoisseur.

GB: I have been meaning to ask about your plans...

JR: Among other things, I would like to find a home for some of the paintings in a museum.

Read Part 2 of this interview here
Read Part 1 of this interview here


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