For almost a decade, the elegant Dashrath Patel Museum has stood in Alibaug’s Chondi village as an unheralded sanctum. The brainchild of architect-designer Pinakin Patel, the museum is an ode to the versatile modernist who produced a robust body of work from his studio in Alibaug, but preferred to remain invisible.

While the museum offers a comprehensive view of the breadth of Dashrath Patel’s oeuvre – as a designer, photographer, artist, sculptor – it was only in November that the works he created at his Alibaug studio became part of a travelling display. Titled School, the first solo exhibition of the interdisciplinary work was the inaugural show of the Kolkata Centre of Creativity, a new interactive arts centre in Anandapur.

Designed and curated by Pinakin Patel, the 10,000 sq ft gallery, owned by the Emami Group’s art initiative, is reminiscent of the Alibaug museum, with a selection of ceramics, tapestry, paintings and photographs, all intended to ignite a new conversation around the reticent artist’s works.

“Unfortunately people only want to see, talk and discuss branded iconified art and he was too absorbed in his craft to care about being iconified,” said Pinakin Patel, explaining why friend and mentor, who died in 2010, rarely exhibited his works during his lifetime. The exhibition next travels to Mumbai to show at the Goethe gallery in December.

Dashrath Patel, founder-secretary and first director of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, was a contemporary of Tyeb Mehta, SH Raza, MF Husain and VS Gaitonde and collaborated with the likes of designer Charles Eames, architect Louis Kahn and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Known for his unique reading of light, form, movement and colours, Dashrath Patel was a rare storyteller with a childlike curiosity that inspired his works, particularly ceramics and photographs.

The selection on display in the Kolkata exhibition captures the ethos of the man who was known for his disdain for specialisation. They include his famous line drawings, photographs of everyday life, paintings and designs – all illustrative of his passion for exploring diverse mediums.

“Dashrath [Patel] used his disciplines to a point where he could grow through each…,” said Pinakin Patel. “But before he could get frozen in any discipline or get iconified, he moved on to the next one. He kept up his playfulness right to the end – it stopped him from getting a halo around his head. He could join the dots of diversity in a common thread of creativity.”

Dashrath Patel’s works are marked by the fluidity of mediums. “There was a campus-like environment at his Alibaug studio [set up in 2000] with students making pottery, ceramics, tapestry and [doing] photography,” said Pinakin Patel. “The result is something like the tapestry on display that takes one of his artworks and transposes it on a different medium.”

The multidisciplinary artist was a firm believer in not putting “dates or too much description to the paintings because they have to be viewed as one lifetime’s works”. Keeping that “philosophy” in mind, all the artworks in the exhibition, says Pinakin Patel, have minimal labelling.

Another eye-catching display arrangement is that the photographs have been mounted on pillars instead of walls. The idea, says Pinakin Patel, came from a steadfast belief of his mentor: “If you don’t make things for your own surprise, you become like a baker, everyday making the same round bread to sell.”

“When you walk through the same space that you imagine Dashrath walked through, and you suddenly turn your head and see something that surprises you,” said Pinakin Patel. “And you take three steps forward and you realise that it actually connects with the first one…there is an element of surprise and yet the connection is maintained.” There are images of everyday life, which he loved to capture, of sepia-tinted hand-painted posters, women and still life that can be viewed both in isolation and as chapters from a singular narrative.

The Kolkata Centre for Creativity is spread over five floors and 70,000 sq ft. The ground floor houses the 10,000 sq ft gallery.
The Kolkata Centre for Creativity is spread over five floors and 70,000 sq ft. The ground floor houses the 10,000 sq ft gallery.

The genius of Dashrath Patel, says his protégé, was also in his ability to demystify artistic jargons. The artist had a very “simple way” of looking at every experience that somebody shared with him, something that is reflected in his explorations of form, shadow, light and movement, displayed in the exhibition. “That is what would engage people with him but also make them grow in their own way through simple explanations,” said Pinakin Patel.

Dashrath Patel was known for his passion for line drawings – something he would practice every morning, like riyaz. He often spoke of a line as a “dot that goes for a walk”, an idea that connected him to Swiss German artist Paul Klee.

“The concept of how form is created by light and the constant balance of the two – is the other important ethos in his understanding of all media,” said Pinakin Patel. “He made it simple by saying that an object by itself has no movement. It is the light that makes it move.”

The time is ripe to rediscover India’s “renaissance man”, believes Pinakin Patel – “A more thinking and engaging audience should be able to find him out.”

Pinakin Patel.
Pinakin Patel.