The Padma Vibhushan, translated as Lotus Decoration, is the second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India, only after Bharat Ratna. In 1999, Satish Gujral was honourably given the Padma Vibhushan for his contribution to the field of art in India and worldwide. He has experienced various roles during his artistic career, including a painter, sculptor, muralist, graphic designer, architect, and author. Denominated as “The Leonardo da Vinci of India” by Dr SS Bhatti, Satish Gujral sets an example of inexhaustible creativity for later-generation artists around the World.
Early Life | Satish Gujral
Satish Gujral was born on December 25th, 1925, into a Punjabi Hindu Khatri family in Jhelum city of pre-partitioned West Punjab. An accident happened at the age of eight. Falling into the rapids while crossing a rickety bridge in Kashmir caused him a leg injury and an impairment of hearing. In the documentary on himself, “A Brush with Life”, Satish Gujral said: “Whenever someone asks me the question about my childhood, the answer that fills me is if I had a childhood when I lost my hearing and could not even walk.” This led to him sinking deeper into the World of his own created by poets and writers after beginning to read Iqbal and Ghalib at the age of twelve. “It is what built my personality”, he stated in the documentary.
The hearing problem has affected his coherent speech and self-confidence. It also resulted in many schools closing doors on him. Still, Satish Gujral managed to find his strength in visual langue thanks to the support from his father, who was impressed by his early sketches. Enrolling in the Mayo School of Arts in 1939 for applied arts officially marked the inception of his journey. He pursued a degree in the Sir JJ School of Art but was forced to drop out in 1947 due to a periodic ailment. Fast forward to 1952, Satish Gujral was granted a scholarship by the Mexican embassy to study at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Artworks and Style
The 1947 Partition of India significantly impacted Satish Gujral’s early career as a painter. Not only was he an unwilling witness to cruel acts of man against man, but also, he had been there along with his father to help those Hindu refugees from his hometown in Jhelum to immigrate to India. The bloody scenes inspired him to create a series of Partition paintings. The war victims’ agony was depicted through his brush. Later, the artist confessed, “I didn’t paint Partition, but I painted my own suffering.” (Shilpa, 2017). His life turned brighter when Satish Gujral met and married Kiran. She becomes his muse and brings colour into his posterior works.
His trip to Mexico in 1952 was a turning point in his artistic journey. Under the influence of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Satish Gujral developed an interest in muralism. He disagreed with Frank Lloyd Wright that “to do a mural for architecture is to deny the right to both mediums to be independent” (Croft, 2020). His murals enhancing the walls of Punjab University, Chandigarh, Shastri Bhawan, and many others serve as a tool for him to advocate public art in India. Satish Gujral also explored the sculptural phase using burnt wood and metal materials. Native art was one of his sources of creativity. The Emergency in India from 1975 to 1977 became his urge to collect burnt wood sculptures reflecting the bondage and restriction of the social psyche.
Muralism is a stepping stone that leads Satish Gujral to the path of architecture. The Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi was his first project. Completed in 1983, the building’s exterior was covered in reddish bricks. The concept was unclear even to the architect himself, “I just designed it through some kind of instinct”, he said (Bahga, 2020). The construction was placed on the plot, whose shape was close to a triangle. The unique form of the site allowed Satish Gujral to be creative with the design layout. The building applied the rule of symmetry and negative and positive space. The complex was an enormous sculpture punctuated with arches, domes, and skylights. The current residence of the Portuguese Ambassador to India shares a similar style to the Embassy of Belgium. The house was originally a gift from Satish Gujral to his poet friend’s family, Ranjana and Shakhat Singh. Besides these two architectures, he designed many other projects, such as India Islamic Cultural Centre, Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Goa University, etc.
Recognition | Satish Gujral
Throughout his life, Satish Gujral has earned some recognisable awards for his contribution to art, listing the National Award for Painting, the National Award for Sculpture, the State Honor, the Order of the Crown, the Padma Vibhushan, Leonardo da Vinci Award, the International Award for Lifetime Achievement, NDTV Indian of the Year. One marking his achievement as an architect is the Order of the Crown from the government of Belgium for his design of the Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi. He is also the first non-Belgian architect that receives the award. The building was also chosen by “the International Forum of Architects as one of the 1000 finest buildings built in the 20th century around the World” (Bahga, 2020). Spring 2020 closed the life chapter of Satish Gujral, which the people will commemorate as a versatile artist of painting, murals, sculpture, and architecture.
- Bahga, S. (2020) A brick sculpture to work in: Satish Gujral-designed Embassy of Belgium, New Delhi, World Architecture Community. World Architecture Community. Available at: https://worldarchitecture.org/article-links/efzpe/a-brick-sculpture-to-work-in-satish-gujraldesigned-embassy-of-belgium-new-delhi.html (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- A Brush with Life (2012) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yLVbhG7GWs&t=1112s (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- Croft, C. (2020) The modernist murals of Satish Gurjal, The Twentieth Century Society. Available at: https://c20society.org.uk/2020/11/10/the-modernist-murals-of-satish-gurjal#dismiss-cookie-notice (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- Gujral, F. (2021) This Delhi home by Satish Gujral was built as a living sculpture, Architectural Digest India. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.in/story/this-delhi-home-by-satish-gujral-was-built-as-a-living-sculpture/ (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- Satish Gujral – Artist Biogragpy, paintings, artworks, Auction Records (no date) Satish Gujral – Artist Biography, Paintings, Artworks, Auction Records. Available at: http://satish-gujral.com/ (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- Satish Gujral Biography – Paintings, architecture & artworks, lief history, facts (no date) Biography – Paintings, Architecture & Artworks, Life History, Facts. Available at: https://www.culturalindia.net/indian-art/painters/satish-gujral.html (Accessed: March 25, 2023).
- Shilpa, S.R. (2017) ‘I didn’t paint partition, I painted my own suffering’, The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/i-didnt-paint-partition-i-painted-my-own-suffering/article22138883.ece (Accessed: March 25, 2023).