The editor of a publication faces many challenges on a day to day basis. Top of the list has to be the putting together of an interesting mix of articles for the reader. But that’s a challenge most good editors relish. The one that gives him the most headaches, though, is what visuals to use. Take a terrific article, but illustrate it with boring pictures, and chances are that the reader will skip the page. Photographs — good, strong photographs — are not always available, which is when you want good, strong illustrations.
As editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, I was lucky enough to have a quiet, studious artist on the staff. His name was Baiju Parthan. But The Sunday Times of India’s Review had no such luxury, so I embarked upon the difficult, but ultimately rewarding part of an editor’s job, which I call the Treasure Hunt. That’s when I found Sunil Padwal. I was immediately struck by how young he was : seeing the maturity of his work, I had expected someone much older. But he was a serious young man, and he always kept to the deadline. But more than that, he was able to capture the essence of the story and do so with illustrations which jumped out vividly from the page. No surprise, then, that we used him more and more; he soon became a Review</B> regular and people began to notice him.
I have followed Sunil’s progress over a decade and a half since then. One of his large paintings hangs over my writing table : it’s the brooding, intense, yet unseeing face of one of his monolithic men; men of such epic proportions that they seem cast in stone. Yet, in spite of their stern impassivity, you sense a hidden vulnerability at their core. This, and many of Sunil’s other haunted looking men capture our urban angst, the alienation we feel in our big cities, and try to escape from again and again.
His current exhibition, I think, is his best work yet. Part of it carries forward the themes and motifs we are familiar with, but even there, in the detailing, there are departures. But what excites me more are the new avenues he has begun to explore. At one level, this shows itself in the experimentation with form, where the frame isn’t just an appendage put on the work after it’s done, but is an integral part of it. You will see that in the boxed frames, and you will particularly notice it in the multi-layered glass boxes, so that you get sometimes a three-dimensional shadow effect and sometimes different imagery at various levels adding up to a complex layering of ideas.
I also like the dry humour in the small series which juxtaposes modern imagery with the old. Like the fighter plane, displayed like a criminal in a gibbet. Or the bug with a carburettor for its innards, which obviously isn’t a good substitute because its legs are all askew. Or the crow pecking at the orrery, suggesting a complex mechanism put into the wrong hands. Or the bee’s search for honey, but since it’s an American bee (its hindquarters are the Stars and Stripes!), the honey it is searching for is not in a garden, but in a landscape filled with oil derricks.
Artists arrive with such departures. Because that’s when other journeys begin.