Bengaluru: Artist Bahadur Shah has always been fascinated by landscapes. His paintings revel in the fact that nature is constantly changing – his lines are blurred and colours run into each other, much like the works of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, who inspire him. Siddiqa Juma’s works capture the miracles of everyday life and she likes to have noise in her studio as she settles down to paint, to the point where she cannot work in silence. She has a studio out in the garden, but prefers to paint inside her house, where all the action takes place!
Anecdotes and personal stories from the life of artists bring audiences closer to the work in question. Although many people have the wherewithal and the taste to desire a work of art in their homes, the idea of going to an art gallery is intimidating. “People also don’t like to say that they love a painting, they’re afraid of someone more knowledgeable turning around and calling them silly,” said Padmaja Nagarur, co-founder, Artflute, an online platform that connects artists with stakeholders. “We’re more than just an online marketplace,” she explained. “We bring people who make frames, interior decorators and of course, consumers, in contact with the artists themselves. The idea is simply to turn every home or living space into a gallery. And all this is done using technology as an enabler.”
The initiative began back in 2008 with Padmaja and Aditya Pisupati, a photographer. “At the core, of course, was the idea of how to turn every space into a gallery and make art accessible to more people.” The solution, they found, lay in changing the way art is consumed. They were dealing with a very nascent market, where people were afraid to express their views on a work of art, because they didn’t want to seem ignorant. Padmaja and Aditya ran a little experiment of their own, by putting up a painting by Milind Nayak and asking people to talk about what they saw. “People would either walk away or not say anything, but once we coaxed them into opening up, we found that the number of things they saw were amazing, from dragons to emotions.” Padmaja, who spends three days a week working with the Dream a Dream foundation, uses art extensively with the NGO as well and understood how it can change a person. “Everyone loves it, provided they know how to engage with it,” she said.
Bringing the artist closer to the audience is an important step as well, which they do through extensive interviews with artists. “We ask simple questions, like ‘what is your ritual before you begin a painting’? and what the artist is trying to portray through his work,” she explained, adding, “A lot of artists like to leave their paintings untitled, so the viewer can decide what it's about. We encourage them to name their works, however, it provides people with more context and through that, a connection with the artist.”
In the market today, although the overall fascination with art seems to be on the rise, this is often merely for purposes of interior decoration. “Yes, we have people coming in and saying, they have a yellow couch and want something that complements it,” said Padmaja. “We start out at that level, really, then take them through the spectrum. We ask them if they prefer landscapes, figurative work or abstracts.” By the time the process is through, the consumer has a much deeper connection with art in general. Also, the artist decides what the price of his or her painting will be.
The printing business, an auxiliary entrant into the art market, is also booming, with countless prints of works by famous artists in circulation. Artflute does hand-textured, limited edition prints too, although no more than a 100 prints of a work of art are available globally. “We do this only to familiarise audiences with the artist's style, it’s not just a business angle,” said Padmaja. “We have high-quality prints textured by trained artisans. We consciously stick with limited edition, though, because the artist should decide what will become of his work.” This is done because even a full-time artist can do only about twenty works a year, which means he will reach out only to as many buyers. "If we have 100 prints, then so many more people learn this artist’s name,” Padmaja explained.
Artists have been flocking to their doors, of course, asking for a platform, but Artflute does limit itself to those who are intensely passionate about what they do. “A lot of artists are very eager to start selling, this means more to them than self-discovery. That's why we keep it a curated space, choosing only professional artists who are very serious about their work.”
Apart from all this, Artflute reaches out to artists who want to sell their work and to those who want to buy them, but don't know where to look. Their long-term plan is to integrate art into daily life, where viewers understand the human beings behind the paintings that occupy pride of place in their homes....