From “cooking steel” to Chigiri-e, the Japanese paper art, Jyotirmoy Ray has done it all. The Goodwill Project caught up with the New Delhi-based octogenarian technologist and artist, who is also an avid bird-watcher, yoga exponent and dishes up Japanese gourmet delights. He is currently preparing for his debut show in India of Chigiri-e artwork at the India International Centre Annexe, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi from July 17 to 23.
By Suhita Roy
Tell us something about your love for fine arts. When did it begin?
I started sketching as an engineering student (at Carnegie Tech, USA), as it was an integral part of studies. My late wife, Sita, was an artist and she guided me through the finer nuances of sketching. One day, as I sat in a park in the US, sketching magnolia trees in full bloom, a stranger approached me and said, “How about coming to my school and learning more about drawing?” That’s how I joined the Department of Fine Arts at Pittsburgh University in 1957 and learnt to draw figures. Since I was working during the day, I attended evening classes.
Did your job contribute towards your love for the arts?
My job took me to places all over the world. I worked in England, the US and several parts of Europe. I was inspired by nature, especially birds, and incorporated these in my paintings and sketches. Birds hold a special place in my heart; I feel they are closest to nature and blend in beautifully. Later, when I came back to India, I started travelling, sometimes on foot to several areas, including Kedarnath and Badrinath. I recall sketching on birch tree leaves.
You spent a long time in Japan. Tell us what prompted you to take classes in Chigiri–e art.
It was in Japan, during my final posting, that I first heard learnt about Chigiri-e art from a friend. Later, in 2007, I made my first Chigiri-e piece, but learnt the art in 2009 and developed my own technique. Traditionally, in Chigiri- e one tears the papers, but I cut or shear them and use more glossy papers. These can be sourced from Origami paper, newspapers, fliers and cast-away magazines.
I was with my wife in Mysore. I saw colourful prints in newspapers and decided to cut these to create Chigiri-e art. My wife taught me about colour strength and 3D effects. There have been times when people have mistaken my artwork for painting, not realising they are composed of paper cuttings.
How has art helped you?
Art is completely engrossing and creative. It helps me pass the time in a beautiful and constructive manner.
When did you hold your first show?
I have many friends in Japan, who were admirers of my wife’s work. They wished to hold an art exhibition in her memory and I, therefore, held two of my shows at the Leaf gallery in Kobe, the first in 2011 and the second in 2014, which included my watercolours, pastels and sketches as well. The response was really good as Japan is culturally very rich. They patronise fine arts and have adopted Western classical music as their own.
What inspires you the most?
Nature, in all its forms! I have travelled from Kanyakumari to Kailash Mansarovar and have seen nature in all its glory and bounty. The scenic beauty of each destination enthralls me.
I am excited about displaying my art in Delhi; it was my life’s ambition and will be fulfilled now.
Did you ever think of pursuing a vocation other than engineering?
I always wanted to be a metallurgist. I “cooked steel” in Pittsburgh and Rourkela and loved every moment. Everything around us is either made of steel or has elements of steel in it. I feel a part of that creation and am proud of it.
(About Chigiri-e: It’s paper art created in the collage style by joining torn pieces of ‘Washi’ or pre-dyed handmade paper, sourced from mulberry tree-trunk pulp. Along with other art forms, it received royal and upper-class patronage in the Heian period (794-1185 CE), customarily presented with poems written in calligraphy in the background. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that the despondency in the wake of the devastating nuclear holocaust during World War II encompassed both the inner and outer world of the people of Japan. In this milieu, an artist one day picked up some torn pieces of paper and created images depicting hope and beauty. Chigiri-e is, therefore, an artist’s impression of hope that takes the flight to freedom, recreating a sense of harmony through synthesis.)