My journey literally began with the walks I took with my father. From the age of six to sixteen, I would go for long walks with Bhai, my father, on the beach, on the river-side, in the fields and sometimes on hill-tops.
My first teacher
I spent my childhood in Navelim, near Margao, and in Keri, Mandrem and Pilerne. My father was perhaps my only teacher during those days. He was a timid man who suffered from depression due to financial difficulties, yet he was the biggest influence on my life. He had taken his Masters Degree in Literature and had also taken training as an artist from the famous painter of the 40s, S. L. Haldankar. Bhai tried to make a living as an artist in Bombay, but he did not succeed, so he returned to Goa. He took up a job as a school teacher and continued to paint during his spare time.
I received my first lessons in art from my father. I would go out with him to paint outdoor watercolors. He would teach me how to create the effect of sunlight and how to paint simplified patterns of leaves, so that one could identify the tree I had painted.
My father was actually a man without ambition, but he led me to be ambitious to achieve my best. My father was timid but he made me confident. My father was not strong-spirited, but he instilled a strong spirit in me. He gave me all that he had and, curiously, many things which he did not have.
As a child, I studied in small village schools where the quality of education was not really of a high standard. Until the eighth standard I studied in the Marathi medium and then changed to English medium in the ninth standard, when I joined Pragati High School, Verem. This did not make for undue difficulties for me because Bhai had spent long hours teaching me English at home. I would sit on the ground in the fields, while he lay down in an armchair and would repeat English sentences with different structures. I would sit on the ground in the fields, while he lay down in an armchair and would repeat English sentences with different structures. In fact, he wrote a book in Marathi Subodh Ingreji Lekhan just to make learning English simpler for us. By the time I was ten years old, I had read out to him many English Classics like Tom Sawyer, The Count of Monte Cristo, Treasure Island and children’s stories from Shakespeare.
When I was in the tenth standard, my father was a teacher in the same school. He had so much confidence in me that he began announcing to the other teachers that I would be ranked among the first 10 in Goa in the SSC exams! I realise that it is not right to put your children under this kind of stress. But I must confess that I suffered no stress at all, and I managed to get the seventh rank in the Board Exams.
I am convinced that whatever I may have achieved in my life, I owe to my father. I now realize that the most important thing you can give your children is time and love. The strong foundations laid during childhood will form the basis on which you begin to build your dreams of the future. As most teenagers, I was not sure what career I really wanted to take up. I joined the Science stream in the 11th standard at Dhempe College in Miramar. My goals had a very wide range: I wanted to be a doctor, perhaps an engineer, or an architect, a Gandhi, a Nehru, an author, but never ever did it cross my mind that I would take art as my profession. I loved art and continued to paint watercolors, yet I always thought that it would remain my hobby.
During my days at Dhempe College Hostel in Miramar I was introduced to the cartoons of R. K. Laxman. I was fascinated by the way he could think of a new funny idea every single day. The very next day after my 12th standard exam, I walked into The Navhind Times office with a bunch of my own cartoons. I was just a teenager but Mr. K. S. K. Menon, the Editor, liked my work and hired me straightaway. From then on I had a cartoon on the front page of The Navhind Times every day. I also drew illustrations for the Sunday edition. My father was always worried about how he would be able to support me financially when I joined the Medical College. He had applied to scores of institutions for financial assistance for my studies. But the newspaper paid me a substantial salary and I could support my own education during the medical studies that I signed up for. Luckily the Medical College was next to the newspaper office and I would slip to my office in The Navhind Times and draw the cartoon for the next day. I had come from the poorest family and had become the richest student in the Goa Medical College!
During my studies in medicine, I became a good friend of Satish Sonak, who was already active as a student leader. I then joined the Student Movement and took an active part in cultural events. I was introduced to many books at Satish’s home and turned into an avid reader. Satish and I would go together to most Elocution Competitions and would manage to win prizes most of the time. Participation in organizing student festivals was very important to us. That was what gave me tremendous training on how to manage events.
I used to come to Calangute very often for walks along with my father and had already made friends there. I realized that Calangute did not have a single hospital and decided to start one after finishing my studies. I took a loan from a Bank and started a 10-bedded hospital in a building, which I rented from a fisherman.
I had consultants visiting my hospital on a regular basis. The hospital was very successful. Savita, my wife, who had completed her post-graduation in microbiology, decided to start a Clinical Laboratory in my hospital. The hospital did very well and I was quite happy looking after patients and helping them. I had a roaring practice, yet there was something missing somewhere in my life. After six years of practice I realized that the work I was doing was noble, but was rather routine. I started feeling quite suffocated and began spending some time painting, especially when my younger brother, Ravi joined my practice. My artistic career had begun.
My artistic career
Gradually I handed over the hospital to my brother and took to full-time art. Initially I started painting watercolors of Indo-Portuguese houses. I must have painted every interesting window of old houses in Goa. My watercolors of Goan houses met with tremendous demand. I must have become the largest real estate dealer in the form of paintings of houses! Slowly the same feeling which I had as a doctor, staged a comeback. I found that painting watercolors of houses was very routine. By this time I had already started reading books on art and had an opportunity to travel to Europe and visit museums. The modern art museums of the world became my teachers. In the early years, I could hardly connect with the works displayed in the Tate Modern, Pinakothek Moderne and other Avant Garde museums. Gradually, I started meeting artists and understanding their works.
I started reading as much as I could and slowly the mystery of contemporary art started revealing itself to me. I grew fascinated with installations, land art, video and other conceptual forms of art. I had really found my love!
An ocean artist
For the last ten years, I have experimented with various mediums, materials and canvases. The ocean and things connected with the ocean have been my themes. I like to think of myself as an ocean artist. The ocean had first become my friend during my walks with my father. Now the ocean had turned into my major inspiration. The ocean is inside and outside my works, my medium and my metaphor in the dramatic encounter between mythology and modernity. When I plant thousands of mussel shells on the seashore to create an impression of the sea, the ocean is my medium, my theme and my canvas. The ocean is my master and my muse. I started creating large installations on the seashore using sand, shells, pebbles, palm leaves, boats and even fishermen.
Dialogues with the past
I began infusing my works with my political and social ideologies. By this time I took a lot of interest in studying History. History found her way subtly into my creations. My installations became my dialogues with the past. I have created an exhibition called ‘The pepper cross’ which deals with objects and ideas which the ocean carried to new shores. I use my objects as metaphors for history. This exhibition has already been presented at The Pepper House in Kochi, Canvas international Art in Amsterdam and a part of it at the Saatchi Gallery in London. I am presently working on making a full-fledged museum of Goa’s history where history will be presented through a contemporary idiom.
The breaking waves
When I walked with my father as a young boy by the seashores, I loved to watch the breaking waves. The waves would break and the surf would run on to the sand. Most waves would wet the same sand which was wet before and then a big wave would appear, rush on to the shore and wet new sand. “Son,” my father had told me, “in any endeavor you undertake in your life, you have to wet new sand. Wetting the sand which was already wet is no good. One should go beyond the edge”.
I do not know whether I have managed ‘to wet’ new sands in the field of art. But then I am not dead yet … The journey continues.
Subodh Kerkar is a nationally and internationally acclaimed installation artist. For the past 20 years he has experimented with different media creating a niche for himself, especially in the field of land art and conceptual art. Subodh is the only artist in the country doing monumental works in nature.0 comments so far — Join the discussion