Saturday, April 20, 2002

Eight painters, all in a family
Sanjay Austa

Purushattam Das with his children --- Photo by Subhash Bhardwaj
Purushattam Das with his children
ó Photo by Subhash Bhardwaj

GENERALLY speaking, one artist is just about enough in a family. Considered a black sheep, his or her vocation is usually regarded as an eccentricity. But what if a family has a whole set of eight painters? What if all of them practise their trade under the same roof and have the same artistic medium?

This unique family of eight painters comprises a father and his seven children. The 69-year-old Purushattam Das, his six sons and one daughter are fired by a common pursuit ó painting. Carrying out their work from their small rented house in Faridabad, the family members live by the sale of their paintings alone and follow no other profession. Ironically the black sheep in this family is the ninth member ó Purushattamís wife, who knows nothing of painting.

Purushattam, the soft-spoken patriarch of this creative-household, is well acquainted with the struggle of a painterís life. It was just as well therefore that when his seven children came of age, he advised them to take up salaried jobs in private companies. He secured them admissions in technical institutes and colleges and told them that he would willingly bear all their educational expenses. But none of his children were interested in regular jobs. Since their childhood, they had taken a fancy to their father sitting for hours with easel in hand and spreading colours on the canvas. One by one they all trooped back from their respective institutes to draw, sketch and paint, in short to follow in their fatherís footsteps. "Of course, I did not want my children to become painters as I know the hardships one has to go through... besides, there is little profit. But it so happened that all of them wanted to paint," says Purushattam.


When be began painting in his twenties he was alone and had to do various odd jobs to survive. From working on the lathe machine to being a motor mechanic, he did whatever came his way. But despite the long hours and the strenuous nature of his work, he kept the desire to paint burning in him. Therefore when an opportunity to paint sign-boards came one day, he grabbed it. "At least I could see colours. It was somewhat connected with painting," he recalls. But it was only in the late í60s that Purushattam could become a full-fledged painter. "I started painting portraits, landscapes, scenes at marketplaces. I would go to the villages and try to paint the scenery there," he says. However to establish himself as a good painter took a lot of time and effort. "From rejection to despair, I experienced it all," Purushattam stoically remarks. It is only now in the twilight of his life that he has received recognition from the art community. Though aware of their fatherís struggles, the children took up painting as their career. Says Harwinder Singh (32), the third son who has diversified into making designs on tiles, "Watching father paint was so appealing that we decided in our childhood itself that we would take it up as a career."

The children may have shunned lucrative job options to choose the insecurities of the art world but they have not let their father down.

Jaspal Singh, the eldest son, has made a mark for himself already and has his set-up in Jalandhar. The daughter, Balwinder Kaur, likes realistic work and makes portraits of women. Surinder Singh and Satwant Singh excel in oil painting. Satpal Singh like his father does a lot of abstract art, while the youngest son Gulshan Singh specialises in still life.

Today all eight of them paint together in their small house which also doubles up as their studio. Though all of them use oil paints yet each of them has a distinct style and individuality. The children may have the advantage of having their father to guide them but each of them are aware that their talent and hard work alone can establish them as good painters.

Except the youngest son Gulshan who is in his twenties, all others are in their late thirties. But marriage is something they donít want to discuss or consider. They say they are already married to their art. "We all follow one passion and work together as a family. We have the same priorities, ambitions and frustrations," says Satwant Singh.

Purushattam who began with doing landscapes in water colours now does abstract art in oil on canvas. He is an unabashed M.F. Hussain admirer. "Ilook up to him because he has reached where he is despite the struggles in his life." Purushattam asserts that struggles are important to shape up a painterís work. However, he admits, it is sad that some artists get ahead by political manoeuvering. "There are some good artists who struggle all their lives but no one knows them because they donít indulge in politics."

Purushattam has held a number of exhibitions in Delhi and other cities. Most of his paintings depict a musical instrument. "I am a lover of music, which I feel is a symbol of peace. My paintings reflect my devotion for music," he explains.

When all eight of the family hold joint painting exhibitions, they draw a lot of crowd and comment. Till date they have held three such exhibitions in Delhi and all to good effect.