“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”- Thomas Merton
Bijay Biswaal is a renowned painter from India. He was born in 1964 in Odisha. Fond of art since early childhood he always had the passion and talent to be a great artist. He worked for the Indian Railways as the chief ticket inspector before voluntarily retiring and pursuing his passion full time. It is always difficult to introduce an artist. And especially so, when our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi has introduced him as “Karma Yogi” in his Mann Ki Baat show some time back. Bijay Biswaal’s paintings have been exhibited in various places in India and abroad. He has won accolades in Washington DC (USA), Penza (Russia), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Kuwait City (Kuwait).
Apart from this formal introduction, I would like to thank Mr. Biswaal for giving us this opportunity to showcase his mesmerizing art on our budding blog. One feels most comfortable and loses all inhibitions about how great artists might be, once they interact with him. I am sure his interview will inspire all of us in whatever our passion is and will answer some very important questions that artists, in general, ponder upon. Without further ado, I present to you the interview:
From studying political science, to a job in the Indian railways and then giving everything up for your passion of painting can you give us a sneak peek at this journey?
I was born in a small town called Pallahara in central Odisha, where signboard painters were considered artists. For my middle class, conservative, semi-educated parents, with a super middle-class mentality; being an artist and choosing it as a career option was never an appealing idea. But I considered myself an artist right from the age of four maybe. I just passed through my school and college doing the bare minimum as it was my only option back then. I became a postgraduate and secured a government job. But all the while I always considered myself an artist. I was so fascinated with the idea of drawing and sketching that I would sketch non stop for hours together. Then I landed a job with the railways. I happily grabbed that opportunity, as I wanted to be independent and earn so that I could pay for my painting materials. In my journey as an artist, this job happened to be just in the way of reaching my final goal. Eventually, I did quit and now am living the life I always dreamt of. I am most happy to be an artist who is thrilled every morning at the prospect of going to my studio upstairs and paint!
Since you paint in different mediums, what is your absolute favorite medium to use? Why?
Yes, I paint with any medium that I lay my hands on. Anything that could leave a mark on any surface. From charcoal, pencil, watercolor, oil to acrylic, I enjoy doing it all. But I am now mostly painting with watercolor and acrylics. Both of these contrasting mediums are my favorite. If I have to choose then my favorite would be watercolor. Its a challenging medium, temperamental, moody and unforgiving. There is an element of uncertainty that makes it more fascinating. It never lets you take it for granted. Its non-messy and allows the artist to complete the job quickly. That is its endearing quality.
Which artists are your inspiration? Can you also share with us some promising new artists or some information about your protégé?
I have been influenced by Renaissance European artists, assorted Russian and Indian artists, but Raja Ravi Verma and RK Laxman are the two names that come to my mind when I think of inspiration. Ravi Verma for his traditional Indian aesthetics and the great cartoonist for figure studies. My figure sketches were highly influenced by Laxman’s assorted human figures in my formative years. During my youth, I wanted to be a cartoonist. Among the contemporary watercolorist, I see many promising Indians like Prafull Sawant, Anirban Jana, Nandish Prabhu, Rajkumar Sabathia, Nirupam Kanwar, Amit Kapoor, Nakshdeep Singh. We are going to hear more and more about these talented artists in the future for sure.
What advice would you give the younger generation regarding the importance of marketing and use of social media to their advantage as artists?
Marketing is vital for artists to get a modicum of commercial success. Thanks to the internet and a plethora of social networking sites you can reach out to the global market from the comfort of your studio. I always encourage students to be active on Instagram, Facebook, and host of other free art sites and blogs. To see and be seen is the name of the game!
A lot of talented artists are stuck in mundane jobs that they don’t love, for stability and financial support, what advice would you give them?
Its a tough life for practicing artists. It’s not easy to find buyers. It’s a huge unorganized sector where name and fame matter when it comes to a successful sale. So I can understand talents doing odd jobs or painting stuff they would not otherwise. You can’t create on an empty stomach. So I advise upcoming artists to have a backup income source and simultaneously keep painting and aspiring to be a successful artist. Just like I was working for the railways, doing a job that was farthest from anything artistic and creative, yet I spent hours working hard in my studio during my spare time. I quit the job when my work started selling and I got myself established as an artist of repute. So doing odd jobs while pursuing your artistic dream is a sensible option for any upcoming artist.
Amateurs tend to learn by trying to copy paintings of professional artists. Is it the right way to learn art?
Copying or getting inspired by other established artists is a common thing. Famous Indian singer Kumar Sanu is a Kishore Kumar copy, Sonu Nigam a Mohammad Rafi copy, I myself used to imitate RK Laxman and used to copy comic book sketches in my formative years. After regular practice and dedicated approach one develops originality. So copying artwork is one of the most common acceptable ways to start the journey as a painter.
What are the advantages a self-taught artist would have over someone with a technical education in art?
The advantage of being a self-taught artist is that you are not learning things through a straight-jacketed method. You learn by lots of trials and errors. Failures teach you faster and stronger than a thousand lectures in a class. But at the end of the day, everything boils down to how passionate and focused you are on your trade. If you have that in you, then there is no stopping. It matters little whether you are an academician or self-trained artist. Passion shows on your canvas, period.
All artists paint things in their surroundings and are inspired by those. The railway is an unusual topic for a painter to choose. Do you think this has created a niche for you? Since these subjects are Indian, how has the international community received your art?
If I was working in a bank, chances are I would have ended up painting loads of bank buildings. True, every painter is influenced by her or his surrounding. Railways are not the only subject I painted. You can see a wide range of subjects rendered on my canvas. I had painted a successful fire series, then Odisha village series, another creative series based on banyan roots and all those turned out to be popular at different stages of my artistic career. But the ‘train’ series is the one genre that turned iconic. It was received warmly by one and all. A rain-drenched railway platform with scurrying public on it dragging baggage and kids along, as a subject was instantly loved, not only in this country but globally as well. With honorable Prime Minister Modi speaking highly of these paintings and me as an artist in his MANN KI BAAT ( July 26, 2015), this series caught the imagination of art-loving masses like wildfire. I never looked back. There is an element of romance and nostalgia in my train centric paintings that was appreciated by art lovers cutting across geography, gender and age groups. I always have a strong belief that all art succeeds that’s born with passion and conviction.
What has art taught you that you would not have learned in any other profession?
An artist has the enviable position to create something that stands the test of time and touch the lives of millions. Art has taught me to forget the pain easily and be happy instantly. A passionate artist can withstand the biggest of sorrows in his studio. Here is a field where you are the boss. You have literally no competitor. Your competition is with yourself. You have to climb higher and higher with your creations. I don’t think I could have enjoyed this in any other profession.
We have noticed that talented people always tend to have more than one passion. What are your other passions in life?
I am a huge music lover, a bad singer though. I also love dancing, yoga, reading, and writing. And last but not the least I am a hardcore foodie. Give me my ‘Odia Pakhala’ any time of the day and am sure to gobble it!
You can check more of Mr. Bijay Biswaal’s work at following links: