From the Center: Ceramic Art and Patronage In India

From the Center: Ceramic Art and Patronage In India

Kristine Michael
New Delhi, 2010

From the ancient world onward, patronage of the arts was important in art history. From pre-modern Medieval and Renaissance Europe, as well as feudal Japan, Southeast Asia and elsewhere art patronage tended to arise wherever a royal or religious system and aristocracy dominated a society and controlled resources.

Patrons operated as sponsors of artists and the commissioning of artwork which includes architecture, is the best-known aspect of the patronage system. Other disciplines also benefitted from patronage including those who studied natural philosophy (pre-modern science), musicians, writers, philosophers, alchemists, astrologers. Artists and musicians, as diverse and important as Mozart and Beethoven, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ben Johnson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons. It was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the 19th century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly-supported system of art colleges and universities, connoisseurs and galleries, museums, theaters, mass audiences and mass consumption that is familiar in the contemporary world. Though the nature of the sponsors has changed- -from churches to charitable foundations, and from aristocrats to plutocrats and collectors-the term patronage now simply refers to a symbiotic relationship with an artist where support happens in a multitude of ways that are surprisingly influential in the growth and progression of a specific style or medium, such as ceramic art.

Galleries and private or state-run Centers such as the Garth Clark Gallery in New York and the European Ceramic Work Center in Holland have revolutionized the stature and influenced the direction of ceramic art in the 20th century. They have created Centers of excellence which challenge creative boundaries.

One such Center was inspired by the Dutch model in Baroda over ten years ago and nurtured along by a visionary group of artists and collectors including Bhupen Khakhar, Jyoti and Reshma Patel, Jyotsna and Jyoti Bhatt among others. Khakhar was one of the first Indian painters to have experienced a residency at the EKWC, followed in later years by Sheila Makhijani, Mrinalini Mukherjee, C Douglas, Nikhileswar Baruah among others. He returned to India with enthusiasm for the possibilties of the medium and a commitment o see similar state of the art facilities in Baroda. At the time, support ior ceramic art was regionally divided with workshop and studios at the Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal and the Lalit Kala Akademy artists' studios in New Delhi Chennai, Lucknow and Kolkata besides private art centers like the Sanskriti Kendra in Delhi. Baroda has over. the past fifty years been known as an artistic hub of education, experimentation and excellence and it was this very stimulating environment which encouraged the beginnings of the Light Publications dedicated vision of a ceramic center for the use of both ceramic and fine art practitioners.

The large shed was erected in the middle of the most beautiful garden in the Light Publications premises that created a wonderful ambience of being close to nature as well as inspirational. Senior artists Ira Choudhuri and Nirmala Patwardhan visited as early consultants. The first kilns in 1998 were an electric car kiln, a test gas kiln designed by PR Daroz and an Olsen down draft wood kiln modified for Indian conditions by Ray Meeker of the Golden Bridge Pottery Pondicherry. It was built by Kristine Michael and Jyotsna Bhatt along with masons and was followed by the Salt wood kiln. The first of the many artist workshops which became the Center's tour de force, included a combination of participants from the very experienced to the emerging in a creative environment that concentrated on creative interaction and often on a specific medium skills and techniques within the field of ceramics. The Paper Clay and Raku workshop conducted by Kristine Michael in 1998 set the pattern of learning and sharing between senior and emerging artists.

In 2000, there was an International Artists Camp led by Varsha Nair which culminated in an exhibition. This was followed the next year with a National Ceramic Artists Camp which reads like a who's who of the Indian ceramic art world- Madhvi Subramanyam, Leena Batra, Trupti Patel, Shantanu Jena, Jayanti Naik, Ira Choudhary, Nirmala Patwardhan among others. Many students from the National Institute of Design and the MS University were welcomed as the policy was all inclusive at every step of the way. Young local artists such as Sukhdev Rathore, Nehal Rachh, Zaida Jacob, Panthini Thakkar, Vinod Daroz, Falguni B Sanghvi, Mudita Bhandari, and Sanket Patel, Prithvi Raj Singh Deo and Foram Thakore took on administrative responsibilities along side experimenting on their individual style. Some longer term residencies were offered to artists to do a larger body of work. The Lustre Workshop in 2010 conducted by Neha Goswami along the lines of Sandeep Manchekar's Delhi Luster workshop brought a new group of emerging artists to the fore - Chirayu Sinha, Hina Bhatt and Anju Pawar. Other artists like Niharika Dave, Yogesh Mahida, Vishva Shroff and Rai David represented in this show form a growing number of artists in Vadodara.

Every workshop had a collective sharing of works created at the Center where it felt as though all of Baroda had congregated to discuss, interpret and critique in a positive and friendly manner. The Center encouraged visiting senior artists like Kalindi Jena to hold master sessions in specific techniques like brush work decoration. This was made even more special as one was able to see the warm interaction between contemporary legends like KG Subramanyam and Jena. A true learning experience which goes into the annals of a shared history which keeps the Ceramic Center in its midst.

The next decade will see the further growth of ceramics as a creative medium in installation, architectural and public art, as well as the functional, domestic and sculptural arenas where the positive contribution of support from Centers of patronage like the Ceramic Center at Light Publications, will be more than evident.