Rohit Chawla goes inside the artists’ studio
The photographer enters the private spaces of some of the country's greatest artists and renders 3D portrait sculptures in a new series, 'The Artist, Unboxed'
Modern Indian greats like S.H. Raza, Ram Kumar and M.F. Husain have left behind unparalleled artistic legacies. It was in their studios, among coloured canvases and open paint cans, that their lives were lived. The studio was their temple: a room for meditation, rumination and creation. Every element that inhabited this space—the lone almirah in the foreground, the cluttered table in the background—revealed a glimpse of each artist’s life.
The Artist, Unboxed, photographer Rohit Chawla’s latest offering, is an invitation into these sanctums. His new series is a 3D photo installation which will be on display as part of a group exhibition, Art Now ’18, at Art Alive Gallery, Delhi. The series serves as a homage to Indian artists, particularly the modernists.
Chawla visited the artists’ homes and photographed them in their studios. A project that took five years in the making, some of these are images that were made a few months before Raza’s and Kumar’s deaths in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Recalling working with Raza at his home in Safdarjung Extension, Delhi, Chawla says, “When Raza was photographed, he was sitting with his eyes closed, and in the background, he had a canvas on which was written aarambh (the beginning), which stood in contrast with his life since this was actually the last chapter of his career."
This is unlike his earlier work, Portrait Of An Author, which featured 350 world-renowned authors whom Chawla captured in intimate, tightly-framed close-ups. For his artists’ series, he deliberately pulled out to reveal the expanse of each artist’s studio or their personal environment. “I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted the images to be more immersive, so that you get a sense of the chaos and the world that the artist inhabits," he says on the phone.
The rectangular box, which has often framed Chawla’s muses (including the authors), has become a recurring leitmotif and a visual anchor in his work. The Artist Unboxed is no exception. “The box has always been an intrinsic part of my practice and housing the works in them adds a graphic element seamlessly," he says. What is unique about this series, however, is that he presents these black and white portraits as layered sculptures, lending them a three-dimensional appearance. “I’ve done them as 3D photo sculptures so that the viewer gets a sense of being inside the studio," he says. “Each image is a single photograph—purist in spirit and approach, but shot keeping a background and a foreground in mind, to add the requisite depth and space."
Chawla’s exhibition is a capsule show, featuring nine artists: Raza, Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna, Sakti Burman, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Anjolie Ela Menon and Paresh Maity. The eight visual sculptures are priced at ₹ 3 lakh onwards each.
The Artist, Unboxed will be on view at Art Alive Gallery, Delhi, from 8-31 October.
Photographs and captions by Rohit Chawla