Was walking around Colaba yesterday outside the Jehangir Art Gallery. I couldn’t find one of my favourite artists from the Pavement Gallery, the footpath outside the art gallery. Maybe it is the rains, i thought. I recalled a profile i had done on him back in my Journalism school days, as a part of our project. This was the very first profile i had ever attempted. The text is pasted below. He has appeared on this blog many times before as The Perfectionist and the unperturbed artist. This is one long post, so don’t blame me if you are bored:P
Shades of Truth
His weapons of choice are quite modest. A clip pad, four clips, Staedtler charcoal pencil, and a blade to sharpen the pencils. The fingers that make such confident strokes are frail, but the spirit is indomitable. At 60, Vijay Balkrishna Parasnaik, is probably the eldest artist around the Pavement Art Plaza.
Having done his Diploma from the esteemed JJ School of Arts in 1978, Parasnaik has been working for nearly 40 years now. He has worked in various capacities ranging from Visualiser to Art Director to Studio Manager. Companies range from newspaper houses like Indian Express to advertising agencies like Age Communication. But his first love has always been sketching portraits. “I had an interest in this art-form since my school days. My father, the late Balkrishna Parasnaik, was also an artist. His artistic genes have really helped me”, adds Parasnaik.
Born on the 2nd of October, 1948, Parasnaik is one person who totally shares the same view of life as the great personality who shares his birthday: Mahatma Gandhi. In fact he resembles Gandhiji even in his food habits, for Parasnaik is a pure vegetarian, surprising considering he comes from the Konkan belt. “I have never had friends who indulge in drinking and smoking. In fact if possible, I even avoid anything that has onion and potato in it”, he adds.
How does an artist find his mood to indulge in his art on a bustling pavement like the Jehangir Art Gallery pavement? “I am not a slave to mood. I can work at any given time and under any given circumstances. My work gives me immense pleasure. I work here from 3pm all the way to 6pm, everyday. Most of my work is done at home, but this atmosphere is ideal for me. I am not affected by the passersby. I hardly ever look up from my portrait”, says Parasnaik, making it sound so very simple. “There was no concept of pavement artists, when I started off. Now this pavement has become a gallery of sorts”, says the lanky artist, conspicuous by his traditional hat and soda bottle glasses.
But isn’t it illegal to display your art here on the pavement? “Displaying art isn’t illegal. Thanks to Cowasjee Jehangir, the owner of the Art Gallery, struggling artists have got a chance to display their work. Since I am the oldest artist here, my place is fixed and no one tries to occupy it. That ways I am respected among the artists here. But even otherwise, I face no problems from the BMC or the police. They are very co-operative and never harass us”, Parasnaik clears the confusion.
Most of Parasnaik’s clients are middle class people who want to get their portraits sketched, for which Parasnaik charges a nominal Rs.500 for an A3 size page. “I work according to orders. Most of my clients come back with more portraits to be sketched. I rarely do live portraits, as I get very little time from the pending orders. But when I do, I charge only Rs.200 for them”, adds Parasnaik.
He avoids charcoal sticks and thinks that Indian branded pencils add a shine to the portraits which is undesirable. Parasnaik uses the expensive Staedtler pencil as it gives the portraits a matte – finish.
Parasnaik has never felt the need to display his works in art galleries. “This pavement is my gallery, and my work does all the talking. I don’t need the crutch of an art gallery for that. My work gives me the motivation that money never can”, says the humble artist, whose students have gone on to having solo shows in the art galleries around town.
Certain things don’t change. For the pavement around the Jehangir Art Gallery, the mob surrounding a lean artist will always be there. “I am 60 now, but that doesn’t mean I will put up my boots. I will continue to go on and on, as this is my only motivation”.
— October 2008