If you delve into Indian art history, you will find only a handful of ceramicists practising a style, which was a stark departure from the one prevalent in post-Independent India. To pursue a technical discipline such as this itself was a challenge, with little access to books on the subject or to courses. In such a scenario, PR Daroz, 78, pushed boundaries, with aesthetics that were deeply rooted in Indian culture and yet had universal resonance. A recently published book celebrates his lifelong fascination with clay. Aptly titled, Fire in the soul, the volume has been authored by Kristine Michael, and published by Pundole Art Gallery, with significant contributions from Dipalee Daroz, who has also been the main archivist of the artist's work. Her catalogues, documents and digitised old photographs have formed the basis of the main text.
“Daroz was the second artist to be invited to become a member of the International Academy of Ceramics, Geneva, after Gouri Khosla in the 1970s,” says Michael. He has been an important presence in the architectural ceramics and interior design field since the 1980s.
However, the book consciously keeps away from the technical aspects of the medium and Daroz’s extensive work in developing it. Instead it focuses on filling gaps in art history. According to Michael, the narrative of modern Indian art has largely ignored ceramics as a medium. “This lacuna—with no book about Indian studio pottery and ceramic artists, their history, and stories— has been a pet peeve of mine. And since 1994, I have been working on a series of interviews with senior ceramicists, documenting their works and lives,” she says.
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Art history, in a newly independent nation, was still based on the Western canons. The colonial perspective of ‘fine art’ versus ‘craft’ carried forth into the 20th century as well. “It was in fact Daroz and Sankho Choudhury, among others, who made many landmark changes to make ceramic art a part of the national art and culture policy,”elaborates Michael.
Fire in the soul consists of five chapters, which chronicle the artist’s journey from Hyderabad to Vadodara, Bopal, and Delhi as distinct creative phases. Over the years, his practice has spanned large architectural installations, delicate translucent porcelain, and his iconic monumental ceramic vessels. The chapters are structured and organised in a non-linear narrative.
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The layout and design is impressive, led by a team from Itu Chaudhuri Design. The final text has been edited by Swati Mitra and Deepika Ganju. For Dadiba Pundole, founder of the Pundole Art Gallery and the publisher of this book, supporting this project was important, given the long association with the artist, “and given our belief in his work”.
The book features small-format text pieces, akin to pages from a diary of the artist. One such blurb reads: “Ceramics is an art form that discourages ego. Since it constantly goes through the cycle of making and breaking, it is a medium that demands detachment and requires a high level of consciousness. In a painting you can always change the colors because everything is visible as it is made. Whereas in ceramics, one has to think inside out, imagine the final outcome.”
With an essay by the late KG Subramanyan, the publication is a delight. Photographs of Daroz working with modernist J Swaminathan, renowned studio potter Gurcharan Singh, and fellow ceramists Jyotsna Bhatt and Ray Meeker are precious. Pages reproduced from his sketchbooks provide an insight into his approach, showcasing how effortlessly he translates a two-dimensional drawing into a tactile, monumental piece.
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