In this insightful article, H.A. Anil Kumar contemplates M.B. Patil’s artistic contribution to the arts, and discovers he has made a statement by just being the way he was and that for him, the act was more relevant than the product
It was already two decades since he had retired as an artist employed with the State Government (Department of Information and Broadcast), when M.B.Patil (born: Tikota, Bijapur, 1939-2017) passed away recently. When he had freshly retired in the late 1990s and held a solo show at ‘Images’ gallery, Bengaluru, another artist-friend of his, K.T.Shiva Prasad had inaugurated it and given a piece of advice to the exhibitor: “Patil has retired now as an employed-artist, let him be creative from now on”. Most in the crowd smiled, giggled and laughed at this tongue-in-cheek remark, while Patil himself had his usual smile, which was not easy to decipher. It was a prejudice that ‘an artist who is not a freelancer is not creative enough’ that was unveiled and vented out during this occasion. Artistic activities are bound to be defined by what art means in any given, specific situation.
Patil’s artistic works might be as mysterious as his smile was: his works can be broadly divided, style-wise, into three categories: the collages, folksy images and his demonstrations, mainly portraiture. The burnt-wood style, for which he has been often so remembered, squarely fits into his folksy style. Perhaps painterly folk representation was already a tradition among Karnataka artists. Like many of his contemporaries (Chandranath Acharya, R.M.Hadapad, S.G.Vasudev), he did meddle a bit with the art of art direction in a few docu-drama films. Often some artists of Karnataka have been so varied in their styles that any amount of categorization style-wise or otherwise, would become impossible (ex: the visual works of R.M.Hadapad and Shivarama Karantha’s literary oeuvre). On the contrary, some artists are so well known for their unique styles, that there are even too many imitators of them; and those who generated the style themselves get creatively imprisoned in this demand for the ‘politics-of-imitation’.
They are bound to avail a longevity to their own style (P.B.Harsoor, M.G.Doddamani) as a survival strategy. By now a smart reader of Karnataka art history, post 1960s, might have realized that I have been hinting at a set of artists hailing and more so believing in a strong fraternity of being from the northern part of Karnataka. There is no counter to that, like, say, a fraternity of ‘the southern-Karnataka artists’. While in Kannada cinema, a strong 'belongingness' to the ‘Mangalore-belt artists’ is on the rise currently (a la the influence of the likes of Kochi Biennales and the awareness of Malayalee-belongingness). Patil alongside other artists like V.G.Sindhur, Vijaya Hagaragundagi and K.K.Makali, evoke this sense of being north-Karnataka artists, with pride. And this was the only (untamed) group to which Patil was most remotely connected throughout. Patil’s was a slender, tall, solitary figure which would always stand aloof even in a crowd, be it a general gathering or a theoretic leaning of right or left.
|Women V, 1998, Painting by MB Patil, Image source Images gallery, publisher M.G.Doddamani|
The discourse, attention and communication he built around the making of imagery were more intense than what he did with the finalized, completed artworks of his own. Hence his works might not sustain the stylistic consistency that his friend Vijay Sindoor formally has, he might not be remembered for his teaching qualities that Hadapad is formally known for, but his demonstrative ability has something of a performative charm about it. In a way he was distanced from the formal definitions of styles, singular styles, genres and even an adherence to any one such program. Patil reminds me of Ki Ram Nagaraj, a Kannada writer-maverick who would spontaneously recite the poetry of Kannada writers created over a thousand year. Patil’s own paintings like Ki Ram’s own writings take a back seat while both are best remembered for an expression that surpasses the respective field’s documentary apparatus.
|Rural family, acrylic on canvas, 2014, Painting by MB Patil, Image source pramilalochan.blogspot.com|
The varieties of images he created, beyond the number of styles he adapted, to suit the occasion of art camps, art demonstrations, art group shows and individual self-sponsored solo shows in Karnataka and Maharashtra, correlate with the innumerable places, cities and townships, he lived in. He even created images for tabloids (for Karnataka State government, to compete with other states at New Delhi) which fetched his office with awards five times, but his artistic contribution has not been acknowledged, even by his own self. Places like Mumbai, Hubli, Dharwad, Bangalore were major places wherein he created his works, and his role, even as an artist, in all these places were not the similar. For instance, at Mumbai he was a student of art, in Hubli/Dharwad he was a working artist for a medical college and in Bangalore he was an official endorser of the official Tabloid that he created to represent the Karnataka culture annually at the country’s capital.
Patil was a family person, with five children, a government job and a high profile education at Nutan Kala Mandir, which is apologetically admitted by most of his biographers. They claim that by the time he reached Mumbai to join the prestigious J.J.School of Arts, he was late and hence joined the poor man’s J.J. i.e. Nutan Kalamandir.
It is not very comfortable to categorise whether it was a maverick playing the role of an artist or an art maverick meddling with various media of expressions. The intriguing part is that he has made a statement by just being the way he was: did not stick onto any specific style of rendering (thus overcoming the modernist frame of stylisation) and did not produce images for eternity (thus liberating himself from museumisation). Was he rejoicing his already familiar terrain by representing them, within which the idea of exoticism (folklore), mimesis (portrait demonstration), diaspora (collage) were celebrated, rather than innovate and position one’s self on permanently uneven grounds. However, if one seriously considers how he laid stress on the act of being an artist more than producing artistic products, Basavanna’s imagination of a metaphoric temple, wherein one’s own body parts are equated with the constituents of a temple comes to the fore. Hailing from the land of the avante garde philosopher Basava (i.e. from a south-Karnataka writer’s perspective), M.B.Patil was more of an artist than a producer of imagery. He challenged not to be archived, and archiving his protest to immortality is, though ironic, a contribution on its own.
(M.B.Patil, 1939-2017, was a recipient of the prestigious Varnashilpi K.Venkatappa award from the Govt of Karnataka, Central and State Lalitkala Academy awards).
About the Author: H.A. Anil Kumar is an art historian and critic, teaching and writing on Indian contemporary visual art and South Indian films since 1992. He has written, edited and co-authored books, papers and art columns, radio and television talks for both academic and popular publications and telecasts, in two languages (English and Kannada) since last three decades. He currently heads the Department of Art History at the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru.
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