Shashikant Dhotre's stunning life-like portraits belie life he led in a Solapur village

Updated: Dec 20, 2017, 12:36 IST | Kusumita Das

The 35-year-old is one of the youngest recipients of nearly every major award in his field, the most recent being the Maharashtrian of the Year Award and the Raja Ravi Varma Chitrakar Samman

At first glance, to the uninitiated, Shashikant Dhotre's portraits would seem like touched-up photos. Going by their stunning realism, you'd think they depict the fine use of water colours, acrylic or oil on canvas. But, when you realise that they have been created with nothing but colour pencils, you don't believe your eyes. The 35-year-old is one of the youngest recipients of nearly every major award in his field, the most recent being the Maharashtrian of the Year Award and the Raja Ravi Varma Chitrakar Samman. Yet, until 15 years ago, this was not his dream.

It takes Dhotre a month to finish each drawing. Currently, he's working on his upcoming solo, where 100 of his works will be displayed
It takes Dhotre a month to finish each drawing. Currently, he's working on his upcoming solo, where 100 of his works will be displayed

Born into a mason's family, in Shirapur, a village in Solapur, he couldn't have been more far removed from art. He was seven when he first picked up a pencil to sketch. "My father kept a diary to maintain accounts. On the first page of that diary, he would draw a peacock." Wanting to ape that sketch, Dhotre tried it out in that diary one day, although mostly, he would draw using a chalk and slate. "In the fourth standard, I got introduced to the Natraj black pencil and thereon, that became my tool. We couldn't afford notebooks, so I would draw on newspapers lying by the roadside, or any paper I could get my hands on. That was all the material I had. So, I ended up getting enough practice on the pencil." He was still years away from discovering colour pencils, though.

It takes Dhotre a month to finish each drawing. Currently, he's working on his upcoming solo, where 100 of his works will be displayed

Dhotre couldn't clear his Std X board exams. "I failed in Math and English." He took on odd jobs as labourer to support his family. "For the next four years, I'd carry rocks and sand on construction sites." Around the same time he got to know of Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, and decided to try his luck. "But, for that I needed to clear my intermediate exams if I were to apply for a bachelor's degree in fine arts. I managed to do that somehow, collected my savings and moved to Mumbai in 2003." A little over a month into his course, he had to move back to his village, as his family had fallen on harder times. "But this time round, I earned by making portraits for people for `50 or `100. I had begun using colour pencils then. But, I was determined to return to Mumbai."

Shashikant Dhotre
Shashikant Dhotre

A serendipitous series of events led to his first break. After he moved back to Mumbai in 2007, Dhotre was busy making a living painting children's rooms, when an old classmate from JJ urged him to apply for the Art Society of India competition. "He came to my room, saw one of my drawings and asked me to submit it. Five days later, it got selected to be exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery. It was a portrait of a little girl." While Dhotre wanted to price it at Rs 2000, his friend insisted that he price it at Rs 18,000.

"I thought there goes my chance at making Rs 2,000. But, that drawing was sold to someone, who later bought all my drawings." The pastoral life is a leitmotif in his works. "I had the most interesting childhood, spent rolling in the mud, diving into rivers, sleeping under the sky. I had never slept indoors, until I moved to Mumbai. I love the night, therefore. And so, all my drawings are set against a black background." And why only the female form? "Even I don't know, except that I have never been drawn towards the idea of drawing males. I guess it's also about the imagery of my mother etched in my mind. I have only drawn women and children. And I have always been an optimistic person, despite the hardships I have endured. So, I try capturing the higher levels of beauty in my art."

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