by Vijay Bagodi
Bhupen used to visit MS University Faculty of Fine Arts quite often to attend any important lecture or slide show presentation of other eminent artists. Since he was a good friend of Mr Dhumal, head of the printing department, he used to come and spend time in the Graphics Department. That is where I met Bhupen the first time.
He was always fascinated about prints that others were working on: plates, lithostone and wood block. He was keen to see their results. Since Bhupen had a very good sense of humor, he used to make amusing comments and offer critical advice too. He never hesitated to try his hand on any print media; in fact he did it quite successfully. Whenever printmaking workshops, portfolios for the Faculty fair, or fund rising art activities took place in the department, Bhupen always contributed his work. He used to come and work along with us in the department. Bhupen had a very friendly approach to everyone, and I always enjoyed assisting him for technical help.
Actually, when I was working in Rini Dhumal’s printmaking studio, Bhupen and P. D. Dhumal both came up with an idea to make a limited edition book Phoren Soap, a story written by Bhupen with original Intaglio prints done by Bhupen himself. To execute these plates and prints, I gave Bhupen technical assistance, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I mainly helped him to work on plates and tried to get the desired effects/ results according to his wishes. My main role was to assist Bhupen by preparing the plates. Plates are prepared gradually, etching deeper tones, burnishing other areas, putting a texture somewhere until Bhupen was satisfied with the proof print. We would look at each proof, and Bhupen would say what he wanted to be changed. Then I tried to get the desired result. As these prints were to be made into a book, I supervised the registration and placing of the printing area – which print would be printed on the reverse side of another print.
During this project, since he had to do so many plates for this book he tried to do all kind of experiments on plates; he had his own discipline and working method, but he never compromised with general printmaking discipline. He had his own approach to handling tools and other printmaking materials but eventually and quite successfully he could combine his ideas and the technique. It was not easy to obtain good quality acid-free printing paper here in India in those days. So we had limited paper for the final prints, and we had to be very sure that the print quality was good enough to be part of the edition. In fact, we did run out of paper, and then Bhupen had to procure more for us to resume the work.
He never stopped working on plates; he wanted to keep working on the plates until someone stopped him. Otherwise he would keep working on the same plate forever. That is the reason why sometime one would find so many variations of results from the same plates. Sometime even after taking the final print, if he was not happy with the result, he would take print and plate, rework on that same plate either by dry point or some other method; sometime he used to paint on them. He liked to take prints from every stage of the plate.
At the end of the project he used to discuss about prints (including the technical aspects of printmaking) and talk about them so confidently that I used to feel happy about his enthusiasm. In fact, he delivered a lecture about printmaking at a public gathering on one occasion so nicely that I felt the other side of Bhupen talking as a complete printmaker – even though he had no formal training. It was so nice to see him as printmaker. He used to enjoy exploring on plates, trying all kinds of possibilities.
Bhupen had a tendency of carrying his sketch book everywhere he went and doodling and scribbling in it. Sometime from a sketch book he used to transfer directly on plates; when he saw the result, he used to get annoyed because the print is a mirror image! It took a long time for him to get used to that. This often happens when someone transfers the images either from sketch book or some other source mechanically.
Bhupen often thought his plates were incomplete. Whenever he saw his prints, he would say that “I would like to work again on the same plate” – he would add something or eliminate something by scraping or by burnishing and all. Then again he used to take changed version of prints. This is how Bhupen practiced as a printmaker. He gave away to his friends the progressive variations or “states” of his prints. Many people in Baroda own a print or two by Bhupen.
I personally always liked and thoroughly enjoyed working with and for him. In fact I learnt a lot from him; I don’t think I will ever forget those experiences.
I really miss Bhupen.
Vijay Bagodi is I/C Head, Department of Graphic Arts (Printmaking)
Faculty of Fine Arts
MS University of Baroda