Jagannath Panda’s art is a study of contradictions. He has mastered the technique of juxtaposing opposites onto the same plane and creating a space where they magically co-exist in perfect harmony. Life and death, utopia and dystopia, dark and light all find themselves brought together via an artistically manoeuvred co-existence, something which is impossible to accomplish in reality. A tete-a-tete with the artist introduced us to his works, most of which are a foray into fact and fiction colliding with each other in myriad forms and formulae.
After receiving a prompt reply to our email requesting a visit we trudged down to Gurgaon one morning to meet the artist. We arrived at his studio and exchanged pleasantries before settling down for what promised to be a long and fruitful chat. An artist in the truest sense, Panda’s cheerful countenance and openness cast quite a spell over us as we listened, enraptured by his explanations and observations. What strikes the viewer most about Panda’s artworks is the level of intricacy and detailing that they possess. When asked about the same he expressed that by focusing on minute details he is trying to represent life itself.
Armed with a number of degrees in Sculpture, Panda has travelled to UK and Japan, inhabiting for a short while in both countries before returning to his native country India. Despite his sojourn into the international sphere, he holds a strong connection with his hometown in Bhubaneswar, Orissa which is evident in his artworks. Working out of a studio in one of Gurgaon’s apartment complexes, Panda explains to the Artsome Team, the unsolved mysteries behind some of his works and experiences incurred with different topographies that translate into his art.
Early Life: Education
Panda’s passion towards art started as a hobby. He impishly admits that, “If you make a drawing, and then someone praises you for it, it’s the best feeling!” That childish innocence channelled him on to pursue Art more vigorously until eventually, with the support of his parents, especially his mother; he decided to make a career out of it. He recalls being inspired by illustrations in Chanda mama books and the local artisans who would make religious idols of Ganesha and Saraswati near his house. In fact, he disclosed that when he started his BFA at B.K. School of Arts in Orissa, he felt that the idol-makers’ works were more skilled than those of some of his teachers.
“When I joined the art college, I saw that my teachers were making works which were not very good – It was a childish thought, but I felt that the image maker could teach us better. Their works looked more beautiful, colourful and skilled. Later I understood what is folk and tribal art; what popular arts are and the technical skill required to attempt them”
His stint in Royal College of Art, London marked the end of a period of extensive experimentation. “Before I moved to London I did a lot of drawing, lot of collage work and worked on different approaches to one particular image. Some I would cut out from newspapers, some I would draw almost like a nonexistent pencil drawing, a very thin line, very draughtsman style; and some were watercolours. But I felt this approach could have a psychological value to it. Bringing different kinds of elements together creates an ongoing dialogue in a work of art. I’m not only bringing a narration through the perspectives, but also through the materials and the approach towards doing it.”
Themes – mythology, philosophy and dichotomies
Panda dapples with a wide range of themes in his works. With reference to his usage of stories from Hindu Mythology, Panda admits that his intention is not to represent history as such. He is intrigued by the story within a story framework of mythological events and uses figures of birds and trees to represent an abstract rendering of the former. He explains, “ …by bringing different kind of dialogues together, my paintings become abstract narrations which conjoin two different worlds in a very balanced space.” Mythological references are only meant to show how they may affect us in the present context.
For instance, in one of his works titled ‘The epic’, Raavan is falling from a skyscraper. The image is divided into four different sections, which if viewed individually, seem to be completely different perspectives visually. Panda says while talking about this particular piece, “When I paint, I paint whatever dimension I feel like it. In one space, you are everywhere, and looking at the physical world. The whole perspective comes across in a balanced manner. In one part- visually, you are below the ground, while in another you are on top of the tallest skyscraper. I enjoy experimenting with the unknown and in this I am not departing from my understanding, but exploring that which hasn’t been explored. “
In ‘The epic’, Panda does not allude to Raavan’s historical role, but how his character may be understood in the present social context. “When you acquire a great deal of knowledge but fail to express gratitude, ego becomes overwhelmingly strong, enough to want to acquire everything around you. “ Here Raavan is shown to be a victim of his own ego through Panda’s unique formula of juxtaposing opposing realms of depiction. Oppositions and dichotomies form the seminal concept recurring behind most of Panda’s artworks. The idea that the world is made up of diametrically opposing concepts attracts him. And he tries to represent both these spaces on his canvas and explore how they can exist in a common space. But according to him, on the outside they may seem to co-exist, but if you delve deep into the painting you’ll soon realise that there is absolutely no way to negotiate the two spaces.
During the interview Panda took us to his workstation and showed us a number of his works. “I don’t want to put only one idea in my work. I want to create a possibility for the viewer to think; to generate his/her own deduction as per their individual perceptions.” He feels that by doing this he will bring out a spontaneous reaction from the viewer.
A huge round canvas standing against the wall with a particularly deep blue immediately caught our eye as we entered. A couple of helpers were preparing the different components which would accompany the work. Panda explained that this artwork was inspired by Matsyapurana, part of the ancient Indian texts called Mahapuranas– by the story of a king named Manu, who is taking a bath and comes across a little fish which is actually an incarnate of Vishnu.
Another striking piece at the other end of the studio seems to be a work in progress, but on questioning Panda reveals that it is an old work. “This painting is finished but I’m reworking on it. I enjoy revisiting/altering works. I felt like something was missing in this one. This is because the kind of language I’m exploring, it is not a known one. To build a new language, imagery you have to work harder. It’s not like I was struggling but I had to work hard to come to a conclusion, explore possibilities. The title of this work is ‘Deep time awaken’. This is in between a dream and reality. A lot of layers, lot of depth within the space, but also some drawings – if you focus on the basic aspect of it you’ll discover the multiple narrations going on. The birds are macaws, and they function as a metaphor for time in motion. The holes are like windows which are opening into different dimensions.”
Topography is an important factor
His current area of residence in Gurgaon really sparks his curiosity. He finds it interesting that everybody around him, his neighbours, have different ideas of life in the city.
“In 2005 I moved to Guragon – which was a really surprising space for me. Because when I had conversations with my neighbours I realised that they all come from a different utopia, and that everybody has their own ideas of living life. In my works, through the landscape I try to create a human space. We live together but you don’t know your neighbours. You don’t meet/talk with them. I play with all these ideas together, but rather than giving a serious meaning to them I enjoy them. “
His most famous work, ‘Cult of Survival’ was a product of his attempt to relate to this new space. Three snakes made up of plastic pipes are intertwined together to form a structure. “The snakes are all eating each other,” he says, an idea borrowed from the symbol of a serpent eating its own tail which you find in the folklore of different ethnicities – Indian, Chinese, Greek, etc. They depict the twin opposing concepts of darkness and light, life and death. “In my work the serpent is growing bigger as it keeps eating itself, representing the unending chain of consumerism and how we consume and produce constantly. Snakes occupy a very interesting space in that sense, somewhere between life and death, and the pipes look like snakes on the ground. I used a lot of materials, and fused them in such a way that they do not disturb each other. Some part is direct plastic pipe, some part is covered in rexine which resembles snakeskin and some part is fabric- to give the fantastical element. Your mind takes you to different spaces and times in one particular moment. Through this the past and present may therefore coexist together at one particular time. “
Struggles of artistic pursuits
When asked about the role of an artist, Panda mentions that an artist’s main aim is to express himself/herself in the quickest possible way. Success of an artwork, for them lies in catching your attention almost by force. “The art world is so open now that it can give you immense possibilities to do whatever you want. At the same time it’s a big ocean. You have to intuitively reach in the right direction. “
Panda enjoys using different materials to depict his ideas but not as a rule. He believes that shifting between multiple mediums should come naturally to the artist as it opens up the possibilities of expanding on his/her multidimensional mind. Sometimes different materials are able to depict a particular idea beautifully, as opposed to being restricted by only one medium. When asked about what he thinks of his contemporaries he praised the work of Vivan Sundaram and Atul Dodiya. “Vivan is a wonderful artist. I really enjoy the way he relates to materials. Sudarshan Shetty is very poetic in his approach to mediums and Atul Dodiya is one of my favourites. I feel that Atul gives a lot of young artists opportunities to learn from him and in that sense he is helping the art community to shape up the next generation of artists.”
Panda plans to do art related projects in places where there is no exposure to art. He strongly feels that everybody should take a little initiative to pursue important people who can help actualise large scale projects. “There are a lot of technical skills and organisational abilities that one must develop as an artist. The world doesn’t end in the studio.”
He has recently launched an initiative to further the arts and crafts of Orissa. Going by the name of Utsha, the foundation aims to introduce the public to Art and Ecology, as explored in a project undertaken in 2011 by the same name : ‘ Art and Ecology: Search for Sustainability’. Fifteen Artists created works as part of the project in different mediums such as film, installation, public art- all of which were linked to ecology and exploration of poignant issues such as climate change and environment. These works were to be exhibited in the Buddha Jayanti Park permanently, thus creating a unique gallery of contemporary art in Bhubaneshwar. Apart from Orissa’s local talent, famous artists such as Atul Dodiya and curator Archana Handa also exhibited their works in the show.
Panda feels he doesn’t fit into the ‘contemporary spirit’ as he moves from one idea to the next without giving much heed to whether they are contemporary, traditional or modern. His artworks exude an elegance which is hard to imitate. Conceptually sound, Panda’s art promises to present us with novel ways to relate to the same mundane spaces that form a part of our daily lives.
For more information about the artist and his works visit Jagannath Panda‘s page on our website.