Sudhir Patwardhan pays tribute to his mentor and inspiration, the self-effacing artist Mukund Kelkar
Around 1969, when I was a student at the Medical College in Pune, I decided I wanted to be an artist instead. I attended the rather impersonal evening art classes at Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, but was looking for more personal guidance. This I found in the studio of the artist, Mukund Kelkar.
The Kelkar Chitrashala, as the studio was known, was a bustling place. In the true tradition of artist-craftsmen, Kelkar was proficient in many different disciplines, which included painting, sculpture, ceramic murals and metal work. In this workshop-like environment, Kelkar and his father, also an artist, played host and teacher to art students and young artists from all over Pune. I received both demonstration (in painting techniques) and instruction (in the use of different mediums). There were discussions around the works that students brought to show Kelkar, and an atmosphere of artistic camaraderie. I visited the studio regularly over two years, until I finished my medical studies and moved to Bombay with the aim of becoming a “full-fledged” artist.
Undoubtedly, the technical guidance and discussions at Kelkar’s studio helped me. It is, however, something else I learnt there that I continue to value till this day. Kelkar showed great generosity in appreciating the sketches and paintings I took to show him. He would often say, going through my sketches, that this was what art students should be doing, but didn’t, at least not with sufficient conviction. Or, considering my handling of the human figure, he would say that he would have liked to have painted these themes himself but hadn’t, or was unable to.
For a medical student aspiring to be an artist, these comments from a “real” artist (though only five years my senior) were a shot of confidence that stood me in good stead as I later approached the art world of Bombay. The generosity of spirit and humility that Mukund Kelkar embodied has remained a guiding light. The art world, I realised, is as much about the relationships that help nurture art as it is about the works of art themselves.
This piece was published in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Indian Quarterly magazine.