Wildlife conservationists have taken various paths to protect wildlife from undergoing extinction. One among them is wildlife art. A viewer is in awe when he looks at a sketch that is vibrant or one that conveys a million emotions. It is then that the viewer can only imagine the emotions felt by the artist which is exactly what the artist wishes to communicate. Artists bring forth scientific ideologies of nature and its conservation practices to life, and in doing so, they build a community who commit to work endlessly to provide a secure space for wildlife.
CSP was in conversation with Prasad Natarajan, a distinguished wildlife artist and conservationist. He founded Artists for Wildlife and Nature (AWN), an organisation whose main aim is to promote wildlife and nature art. AWN provides a platform that encourages different forms of wildlife art and support professional and amateur artists alike. AWN is a group of artists who strongly believe in portraying nature in her pure form. Through its awareness workshops it brings the society’s attention towards conservation issues and address how as individuals one can contribute towards the cause.
Srishti Sambhrama will display Wildlife Art Work during Wildlife Week. Register here https://indicacademy.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_L8gtK2LyS6-Vdp_BiYA7DQ
Could you tell us about yourself and how your journey as a wildlife artist began?
As a three-year-old, I used to pull out flakes of paint from the wall and tell my mother there’s a goat, cow, cat or dog. That’s when my mother recognized my interest in art and encouraged me to make art. My primary school art teacher taught me to draw cats, dogs and mice. I am grateful to him for introducing me to animal art at an early age. Later in my high school, I have won many art competitions at school level and inter school levels. With the help of my friend’s membership at the local government library, I made sketches of birds and /animals from nature books like National Geographic. So, one may say art started when I was very young.
I pursued commerce through distance education and I continued making various forms of artworks for few years during weekends. In 2005, I was fortunate to attend a few wildlife art exhibitions in Bangalore and this genre struck a chord with me. From that day on, I have been making wildlife art and in 2018 it became my profession.
Why was AWN born and could you share with us the activities that goes on in AWN?
Once I started working on the wildlife theme artworks, few of my colleagues suggested that I syart a blog. It took me six years to gather courage and start a blog. I started following artists who did wildlife artworks all over the world and I used to interact with them on their blogs posts.
Many a times, I read about artists winning awards or their works getting showcased in a prestigious show or gallery. This made me wonder as to why such platforms weren’t available in India.
In 2016 Hornbill Magazine published a special issue as a tribute to late Carl D'Silva, this issue featured 20+ wildlife artists from India. I got featured in it as well. I was thrilled to get in touch with these many artists from India. I presented my idea about starting a society for artists in India, and having discussed this idea with my fellow artist pal Prabal Mallick from Orissa, he set me few targets and I worked towards achieving them. In order to connect with more wildlife artists, I started an online community for Artists for Wildlife and Nature and that’s how it all started.
Members of the Trust have a wide variety of events throughout the year to choose from. These include workshops to help members advance their artistic skills. Members are provided with ample opportunities to observe numerous species of animals, birds and other species in the wild.
AWN has had 8 art exhibitions till date in Bangalore and over 2+ lakh rupees awards awarded to wildlife artists.
Three online contests have been conducted till date. Recently we concluded “Pandemic Times-Online Contest” in association with Crowd pouch and 50+ thousand rupees cash awards have been awarded to artists.
Prasad sketching live in Nagarhole
What does wildlife art have to do with conservation? Among your countless works, is there a particular work that evoked a massive response from the public?
Wildlife art is not just an art form, it is recording nature. By doing so, the hunters and gatherers left evidence of their life style. These cave paintings today provide us with an insight about animals that lived back then. Artworks about many extinct species, may it be Avian, Mammalia, Reptilian or Botanical, are gentle reminders to us that we need to conserve the species existing today. We care about beings we know, we conserve beings we know, if a wildlife artwork connects to a common man and makes him/her aware of their fellow being, it is act of conservation nevertheless. Wildlife art is directly connected to conservation even though it may not seem so outwardly.
I have been making few drawings and paintings of dead birds as and when I find them during my morning walks. One such watercolour painting of a dead sparrow has drawn attention of many viewers online and offline. Reactions are mixed, few of the viewers asked me why I paint dead birds and not of the live ones often, few love the technique of the painting, few requests me not to share such sad paintings, few want me to work on such paintings to bring the attention of public towards climatic impact on birds! Over the years, I have been working on a series of dead birds called “Eternal Peace”.
India is the land of Tigers. Although I haven’t painted many tigers, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi Jayanthi, Artville organized a spot painting art event in October 2nd 2014. In a span of 3 hours I painted three large canvases of three stages of a tiger in India. It drew huge crowds and the artwork was displayed in Rangoli Metro Art Centre and Inorbit Mall Whitefield, Bangalore, India for a week.
Title: Disappearing Stripes.
This artwork represents three phases of our national animal.
First canvas depicts the past “British Raj/Maharaja's” period when these magnificent begins were hunted ruthlessly. Hence there's no head to indicate the brutality and the sepia colour of the past.
Second canvas depicts the existing strong Wildlife protection act were tigers’ numbers are making a minor comeback.
Third canvas depicts the need for implementation more stringent laws and nationwide conservation movements, without which the tiger’s stripes will surely vanish into a dark oblivion.
What do you enjoy: drawing live or drawing from a photograph? What is your most preferred medium?
Both drawing live and from photographs have their pros and cons. For many years I have been drawing from photographs since wildlife subjects don’t stay still. However, with my constant interactions with wildlife artists around the world, they all suggest to draw from live subjects. I have been making sincere efforts to draw from live subjects since couple of years. I can’t say I am enjoying it; it is frustrating to see the subject move often. However, there is much more to learn and observe when one draws from live subjects. I have been making videos of the subjects I draw which helps me make studio studies. I can’t really conclude what I enjoy the most yet, since I haven’t explored drawing live in depth.
That is a tough question to answer, there have been phases of mediums, to start off I worked with pencil medium for 4 continuous years, it was enjoyable. Later did Pen and for couple of years, it was both enjoyable and I was successful in selling few of them. Did watercolours for few years, most of the artworks were sold, I struggled a lot to match accurate colours of birds, leaves and tree branches. In 2017 started making acrylic paintings, which is one of the most flexible mediums I have worked with till date. Tried my hand making Lino Cuts as well. Currently working on oils, bit tricky medium however it is one of the rich mediums to work with, in the sense, the colour and vibrancy is unmatched.
What would you consider is your biggest achievement in this field? What pushed you to achieve it?
I have been in this field for few years professionally, don’t know if I can consider it as my biggest achievement. However, there are couple of key moments I wish to share.
First one being, the Artists for Wildlife and Nature first annual show, it all happened like a dream. After announcing about the art exhibition and competition online and in many platforms. I rode on my scooter in the evenings after my office work, distributing pamphlets and posters about the show. Had no clue how it would all turn out in the end, only thought I had was to make it happen, even if was done in a small way. Invested more than a lakh from my personal account for the event. My intention was to start a platform that will honour and recognize wildlife artist inside India.
I presented my idea to many organizations however none of them were interested in the first year. I received immense support from my family and the artists around the globe. It was the first time in Indian Art history that Wildlife Artists received awards and were recognized for their work. Many nature lovers supported this event in every way they could.
Secondly, I always envied people who attended regular college and pursued their dream. Education is the core foundation for personal growth in my humble opinion. Deep down since I couldn’t attend regular college, I felt this emotion of guilt and insecurity. This year an event erased those feelings of mine. It was a privilege and honour to be invited as a Chief Guest of “Safarnama 2020” the annual cultural fest at Christ University Management Association on March 3rd 2020. From being an average student most of the time, to addressing 1200+ students and inspiring them to follow their dreams and passion. I feel more confident now while facing huge gatherings and addressing any gathering.
If you had to choose two Indian and international artists whom you have worked with or whose work you enjoy, who would they be?
Tough question again however will try best to answer this question. I am currently working on a project with Mr Eric Ramanujam and he is one of the senior- most Wildlife artist in India. His knowledge on various wildlife subjects and art is immense. He is meticulous in his work at the same time takes time to enjoy his leisure.
I worked with Smt Hemlata Pradhan for judging the first AWN annual show. She is India’s finest Botanical Artist and one of the best our country as ever produced. Lot to learn from her. There are couple more artists from India whom I admire.
What do you hope for in India with respect to wildlife artists and their movement?
Quality of work in India when it comes to wildlife art is below average when considering the global standards. There are really good artists in India who make such fine paintings, however they are few in number. In the coming years artists need to strive hard and produce great quality works, including me. Most of the so-called artists concrete more on marketing rather than improving their skillsets. This is a dangerous trend; many media houses promote them due to their popularity. Artists who do quality work hardly get the attention they deserve. Wildlife art education should be one the key points to work on in the coming years.
Market for wildlife paintings will follow when we reach global standards. Standard of work is rising day by day in the global art market.
I have always stressed the need for centres of inspiration. Outside India, there are many museums and galleries who are dedicated to wildlife art, these centres inspire the next generation to pursue such art forms. Though India is a land of galleries, sadly there is not a single art gallery supporting Wildlife art. To pursue an artform, survival is essential and to inspire the next generation, being successful is important. If an artist can’t survive making an artwork, they will not make such a genre. This artform will only remain with the upper classes of the society who make art not for survival but for accolades and recognitions.
A natural history art museum with wildlife artworks in India is my life goal.
(Feature image: Short Eared Owl Oil on Canvas by Prasad N)