India's first art fiction captures world of contemporary colours

A native of Chennai, V. Sanjay Kumar, an art connoisseur and collector, has taken the cue to plunge headlong into the whirlwind of the contemporary art world in Mumbai in his debut novel, "Artist, Undone" - being described by critics as India's first post-modern art fiction.

The book cover of
 The book cover of "Artist, Undone" by art promoter collector V. Sanjay Kumar

The unusual book has been inspired by a painting by contemporary artist Nataraj Sharma.

"The first time I saw the painting by Nataraj Sharma, I was intrigued. There were stories going off in my head even as I looked at it. Much later I was looking at constructing a novel around people who in their forties were looking for someplace to get to and needed directions at the same time. The two came together; the painting became a beginning and men in their forties became protagonists. For me the art world became the canvas, so to speak," Sanjay Kumar told IANS.

Kumar, a collector and the director-partner of a leading Mumbai art house, says: "The world of art is familiar and it surprises me every single day."

"At some point, I had to dilute some of the art-related writing as it was getting too dense and involved. That is what the art world does to you. Once it hooks you, it drags you in," the writer said.

The story is about Harsh Sinha - who is as the painting is titled. Sinha is so moved by a painting bearing his name and a compelling likeness to him that he spends a large chunk of his life's savings on it. Announcing a year-long sabbatical from his advertising job in Mumbai, he returns to Chennai to his wife and daughter.

Wife Gayathri does not want him any more; she is more interested in the artist next door - Newton Kumaraswamy - an inveterate womaniser and a famous thief who copies F.N. Souza.

A crushed Harsh, deserted by his family and without a job, returns to Mumbai to succumb to the crazy world of art.

Kumar says his story moves between Chennai, Mumbai and New York.

"It has characters who are not people you meet every day. Yet the canvas is of middle class India and people who come in touch with art and try to make sense of it," the writer said.

Kumar, who has been collecting art since 1988, observes that the "art scene in India reflects the confusion that a country like India commands and this confusion's root cause is the question: What is Indian?"

"I have no clear answer. There is a lot of churn in the contemporary art world thanks to this and the impact of globalisation. This makes it interesting. The art practice absorbs influences from all parts of the world and this wrestles with local influences. The end result is quite often 'khichdi' and occasionally great art," Kumar, who often curates shows, said.

The writer says the spread of the art viewing culture is slow in India.

"We do not have a museum going culture because there are hardly any museums. Private galleries still intimidate people, who feel only
buyers are welcome here," Kumar said.

Art's interaction with the world at large is very limited and in the long run this is not a healthy state to be in, the writer said.

The book published by Hachette will be released Saturday.

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