JAGANNATH PAUL: A JOURNEY OF SELF-BELIEF, PERSEVERANCE AND AMBITION
Leading Indian artist Jagannath Paul is famous for his mixed media works that explore themes of togetherness and intimacy—through semi-abstract images of men and women’s faces, he explores how each person can contain a multitude of personalities. Although I have personally known Jagannath since 2012 and have worked with him through Laasya Art for many years, I had not heard his artistic journey until I sat down with him earlier this year. It is a truly inspiring story of self-belief, perseverance and ambition.
In his own words, Jagannath Paul recounts his story:
Namkhana, West Bengal (early years)
I was born into a very humble family in a village in West Bengal. My father was a farmer, and my mother was a cook at a boarding school nearby. Early on, one of my teachers recognized my talent for art and encouraged me. So I started making sculptures and painting sign boards, which actually became quite a successful side business. In high school, the same teacher gave me a book that listed all the art colleges in Kolkata, which was the closest city to where I lived — located about 5 hours away by bus.
Kolkata (1994 – 1999)
With my teacher’s encouragement, I traveled to Kolkata in 1994 at the young age of 16 to explore the art colleges and what kind of education they could offer. When I arrived, I was simply shocked to see the bustling crowds, the traffic and the tall buildings. I had never seen anything like it! Looking back, I think it was the only time in life when I felt truly afraid.
While visiting Kolkata, I stopped to ask a group of students for directions to one of the art colleges, and a young boy kindly guided me there. This turned out to be a fateful interaction — that evening, I missed the last train to my village and spent the night sleeping on the station benches. The next morning, I happened to bump into the same boy at the train station, whose parents generously invited me to stay in their home until I could find better accommodations. The boy, Pritwish Bhowmick, eventually became one of my lifelong friends.
Pritwish and his family helped me get on my feet, even finding me a room to rent and introducing me to their art teacher, Subuddha Ghosh, who offered me a job teaching art to young children. He also offered to train me for free, which was so generous. While working with him, I applied and got accepted into the 2 best art colleges in Kolkata, Santiniketan on the outskirts of the city and the Government College of Art and Craft in the urban center — I chose the latter so I could continue to teach and therefore support myself financially.
Mumbai (2000 – 2006)
While in college, I met Sumit Basu, a production designer for Bollywood films who promised to help me get started in the film industry if I was ever interested — another fateful interaction. So when I graduated from art school in 1999, I thought why not test my fortune in Bombay? I took Sumit up on his offer and quickly found a job in Bombay, as well as a very small room to rent in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia.
After I settled into my new job, I soon began itching to paint and express my own ideas. With my limited savings, I bought art supplies and painted on my days off. My room was so small I could barely fit the canvases inside! Once I had finished 4 or 5 paintings, I brought them to a few galleries in Bombay. One of the galleries kept two of my works, and within just a few days, the gallerist had sold both. She asked for more and then more, continuing to sell the paintings quickly. It was incredible.
From there, truthfully my success as an artist happened quickly. One of the leading galleries in Bombay reached out to me to promote my work, and when I had my first solo exhibition in 2004 at Nehru Centre, it sold out completely. That’s when I got married and finally moved out of Dharavi, and I haven’t looked back since.
Looking Back… (2006 to present)
Since then I have been fortunate to show my work in galleries across India and art fairs around the world. I have even won a number of awards, like the Hindustan Pencil Ltd. Award by Bombay Art Society. I know my talent was an essential part of becoming an artist, but more importantly I had such focus in those early years. I knew what I wanted and I went after it. I didn’t have a particular timeline and I adapted along the way, making full use of every opportunity afforded to me.
Now I also try to consciously focus on gratitude for the help I have received in life and the good things that have happened. Complete strangers have stepped up to help me, from Pritwish to Subuddha to Sumit. I hope to pass on this generosity to the next generation of talented Indian artists.
Thank you so much, Jagannath.
As a gallerist, I admire how Jagannth continues to ‘travel light’ and remain down to earth, despite his great success.
Please visit https://laasyaart.com/jagannath-paul/ to browse our collection of paintings by artist Jagannath Paul online. If you would like to make an appointment to see these works in person at our Indian art gallery in Palo Alto, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 650-770-9088.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan