Where I Work

Sudhir Patwardhan


Sudhir Patwardhan, one of India’s finest painters, lives and works in Thane, a satellite township of over a million citizens on the northeastern periphery of Mumbai. The first railway in India ran from Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus Station to Thane in 1853 and ever since the two have remained umbilically linked.

His experience in Thane gives Patwardhan a unique vantage point that leaves a sharp imprint on his practice. The narratives of middle class urban existence in India predominate here and the artist’s paintings and drawings have, over the decades, rendered with dignity and reassuring compassion the images of commuters, street laborers and vendors going through their daily activity. Until recently Patwardhan continued to work as a radiologist and portraits of his patients, or fragments of narratives retained from his interactions at the clinic, often find their way into his art.

In the last few years Thane has been the site of aggressive construction, with the opening up of several new malls and multi-lexes that service the urban middle class. Patwardhan’s imagery sensitively audits these changes. He skillfully mixes the siennas, umbers and grays common in the congested vistas of urban India with unusual pinks, yellows and purples, registering the urban microclimate emanating from the steel, glass, concrete and asphalt reflecting the hot tropical sun.

Patwardhan’s studio is of the kind whose location, more than its dimension, has a direct and tangible impact on his art, with its surrounding residential neighborhood providing the artist a larger laboratory. The studio itself, created out of a restructured apartment, is modest and charming, flooded with daylight. The spacious room where Patwardhan paints and views his work is attached to an open pantry, while another smaller room accommodates storage requirements. There is a complete absence of clutter, with paints and brushes nicely arranged on a wheeled trolley. Elsewhere, finished paintings are neatly stacked while the work currently in progress is fixed vertically on a wall.

In his practice, Patwardhan first accumulates photographic references from different parts of the city before laying the images on canvas. These references cross-pollinate once the painting is underway and localities lying kilometers apart dissolve and merge together, as if the grinding nine-to-five pursuit and shared aspirations f the local residents make distances irrelevant. Indeed, Patwardhan’s studio becomes the site for the recital of a thousand caustic and comic chronicles, catching the many dark stories of urban Indian reality floating in bright sunlight.