On January 7, the doorbell at Kunal Bijlani’s Khar apartment rang at 6 pm. His 35 year-old wife Harshna opened the door and in walked Avinash Motghare, a city-based artist, carrying 10 canvases of his latest works. “At first, I didn’t understand what was happening, and then Kunal whispered into my ears, ‘choose whichever you like. It’s your birthday present,’” recalls Harshna, a dermatologist, who stopped painting when she started studying medicine 10 years ago.
Harshna selected an embossed and etched oil painting, which had a bright red and orange goldfish and a 3D fork and knife. “We love to eat fish, and this painting is symbolic in many ways,” says Harshna. That was just her favourite — the couple bought two more works by the 29 year-old oil painter that day, all worth a cool Rs 80,000 in total. Like Bijlani, many other Mumbaiites have begun looking at art as the ideal gift for close friends and family. The 36 year-old, who is the country head for a UK-based property management firm, says he didn’t want to buy the usual suspects. “Gifts like jewellery, watches and perfumes have been done to death. The surprise on Harshna’s face was superb. And getting the artist home to explain his works, and guiding Harshna on taking a decision was an experience in itself,” he recalls.
In December 2011, he had bought a painting for his sister, when she got her masters in set design and was moving into her own apartment in New York. “I gifted her an artwork by Sachin Bonde, which cost around Rs 20,000,” he says. Bijlani had to fight strong resistance from his father, who was convinced that his son was wasting his money over art. “He told me to gift something my sister would use, but I knew she would appreciate this for the rest of her life. I’m glad I made that choice,” he smiles.
Art gets respect
Gallerists and art lovers are welcoming this trend with open arms. Kalpana Shah, owner of Tao Art Gallery, Worli, is delighted to see people finally accepting the uniqueness of art. “When you gift art to somebody for a special occasion, you gift them a happy memory for life. Like gold and silver, art is reaching out to the masses and gaining respect.What better way to leave a lasting impression, than through art?” says the gallerist, who recently concluded Small is Beautiful, which exhibited miniature works by renowned artists. The exhibition was designed to help more people to buy and appreciate art.
Fifty-six year-old Chetan Shah has no knowledge of art, but likes to look at paintings at his friend, Kalpana’s gallery. “This year, our family celebrated two happy occasions. My son moved into his new house and my daughter delivered a baby. I gifted them paintings to mark both occasions. My daughter-in-law was moved when she saw the painting. And I was convinced that she would cherish the Raza print for years to come. To my daughter, I gifted her painting by Kalpana,” says the businessman from Tardeo, who spent around Rs 2 lakh each on the paintings.
That doesn’t mean people are rushing out to shop for paintings and gift wrap them, however. “It’s still nascent,” concedes Shivaji Park-based watercolourist Prashant Prabhu. “Earlier, it was restricted to collectors, as art is the utmost form of luxury. People buy art after they have spent money on all other necessities and luxuries. It requires a certain kind of sensibility to buy art instead of other things. People always have a budget when they are buying a gift, and this means gifting an artwork is still a rare phenomenon,” he explains.
Forty year-old S Soma Shekhar, who is fond of Prabhu’s series of Ladakh paintings, bought one for his Chennai-based sister on her graduation last year. “One must be very confident about the person they are gifting art to, as it is a very subjective field. What I may love, somebody else may dislike. I was sure my sister would like the painting, and she did. She has hung it in her living room. It gives me pleasure that she appreciates what I picked for her,” says the lawyer from Prabhadevi. Curator at the Clark House Initiative in Colaba, Sumesh Sharma, says at least eight buyers have walked in to pick up a present for a dear one in the past year.
“When somebody decides to gift art, it is on a personal level, rather than investment. The buyer has a fair understanding of the person. I don’t see this trend picking up as an investment. The buyers are mostly professionals, who are well settled, and spend anything between Rs 5,000 and 45,000. Though, I have also seen buyers who have saved money to buy a piece of art they have been meaning to gift someone.”