In conversation with artist Vinod Dave

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“Royal Following”, 1984. Mixed media on photo paper. 40 “x 40” Work is in the Herwitz Collection, currently with Daniel Herwitz. The content is based on newspaper images of real events manipulated in photographic medium.Photo: courtesy Vinod Dave

Ela Shah and Vinod Dave are modern contemporary artists who share far more than being India-born and having studied both there and in the United States. Dave, a resident of New York City’s storied Westbeth Artists’ Community in the West Village, shares Shah’s mastery of a variety of artistic genres. And, like Shah, his work reflects his sensitivity to the human suffering and tragedy he often sees in the news.

Shah recently spoke with Dave about his work, his philosophy and the single, dramatic event that shaped his artistic vision. Excerpts from their conversation appear below.

Ela Shah: “Tell me a little about your history and how you discovered your artistic passion.”

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Vinod Dave: “I was born in Chital village, Saurashtra area of Gujarat … I realized (I wanted to be an artist) while reading Chandamama children’s magazine as a kid. This magazine had colorful illustrations that ignited my wish to draw and paint. I copied many of those illustrations and later found my own direction.”

Shah: “Was your talent recognized and nurtured?

Dave: “No. Not by family and not even by art school. The art school discouraged me to illustrate. They taught that art was more serious than illustrations.”

Shah: “You suffered from what some might call a career-ending injury. Tell me about that.”

Dave: “I lost vision in my right eye in an accident in which, ironically, one of my works hit my eye destroying its vision. As a result, I see with one eye without perception of spatial depth. This condition made me invent a different way of ‘seeing.’ I use graphic mark-making over fluidly painted surfaces and forms to create a feeling of spatial depth… Both my sensitivity to the conflicts around us and the functional limits of my seeing eye become the imposed technical aspects of how and what I could do as an artist.”


“Shabda Brahma”, 2003. Mixed media on canvas. 60” x 60” Collection of the artist’s daughter, Melika Dave
The work is about imagination of God in various religions put together with my own mythology.
Photo: Vinod Dave

Shah: “As an Indian artist transplanted to America, how do you reconcile the cultural differences?”

Dave: “Coming from another culture and trying to live in a different one is very conflicting… I come from a tiny India village and now live in a western mega city. That adds to my awareness of how most people struggle to survive in the modern world.”

Shah: “Much of your work reflects a struggle between the powerful, like gods, and the less powerful, man. Can you expand on this for our readers?”

Dave: “What I am trying to do …is to heighten the tension between the duality of the superior and the inferior… It is about the tension that connects to a sense of violence, a violence that cannot be categorized, but it exists…between the powerful and the weak, the controller and the controlled, the master and the slave, the ruler and the ruled, the privileged and the deprived, the star and the masses, the special and the mundane. My work is about the conflict of the opposites (and) my personal conflict of partial disability resonates with the conflicts of life.”

Shah: “Can you talk more about the themes you explore in your work?

“Bakasur Vadh”, 1992. Mixed media on canvas. 84 “x 99”, Herwitz Collection, Peabody Essex Museum
Based on the story of Durga slaying a goat demon, references conflicts between good and evil and between human helplessness and the ones with power. Photo: Vinod Dave

Dave: “The themes keep changing, but a common thread among them is my hypersensitivity to human violence. My earliest theme was creatures of the night like bats… Via their images, I was expressing human loneliness that was coming from my own. Later, the images of human suffering in the newspapers were my theme. I manipulated images of real events and turned them into statements against human-caused sufferings of other humans. Then I turned to reference to mythology comparing common people to divinity and their opposites.  Now, all of these (themes)  keep revolving in my work.”

Shah: “Do you create in a primary genre?”

Dave: “In technical terms, yes. Most of my works are mixed media works that combine a range of materials like paint, graphite, markers, acrylics, watercolor, collage etc.”

Shah: “What would you say to an aspiring artist who wants to pursue art as a career?”

Dave: “I would just give a smile to young artists who have dared to be an artist. Nothing else.”

About Vinod Dave: Vinod Dave (vinoddave.com) holds degrees in Digital Filmmaking, Cibachrome Painting, Mixed Media, and Painting from schools in India and the U.S. He has been the subject of solo exhibits throughout India and in the United States and Europe. Recipient of numerous awards, grants and fellowships, his work is in the permanent collection of numerous museums and private collections around the world.

 This article is edited by Sandra Levine

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