In 7th grade, aged 12, Jayesh Shukla had his first association with press by selling newspapers in Ahmedabad. His association was more than just a swift transferring of newspapers, he knew the mechanisms before the final, tangible print came out. In 2nd year of his College, he started working as a peon in Gujarat Samachar. Here, he was reintroduced to printing in the form of the huge rotary company machine, standing tall at the height of 3 floor of the building. “For me, print making was a source of fun. I was left to explore with different prints, treat them differently,” he said, as we settled in for a conversation in his studio on the third floor of his house, amidst portraits, paints, easels and a huge collection of vintage chairs that he loves collecting; an organized chaos. I looked at him adorned in loose pants, messy sweaters, and silver earrings; his abode a true reflection of him. This is a story of Jayesh Shukla, who has dedicated most of his life to the love of print making. It is a story before Photoshop and digitalization, when print making was not just a test of one’s artist capabilities, but also of their patient personality.
Having studied diploma in CN School of Fine Arts in 1982, he went to Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) to study printmaking in 1988 where he completed two years in ‘manual printmaking’. During his academic years, a few people mentored him in the right direction. One of these were Ajit Desai, who somewhere in the middle of exploring different materials like etching, acid wash, woodcut, lithography and linocut, advised him to go to Baroda and to complete his post-graduation. Another source of inspiration and support was Yester David. “Yester David was my teacher, best friend, my mother. I used to call her ‘Amma’.” Practicing with her, Jayesh had an added perspective. Suddenly, he had answers to questions he had not thought of before. How do you consider 3 dimensional volume space? What it means to have a negative space or a positive space? He had now found a unique connection, bridging both sides of the material.
With a combination of both these mentors, Jayesh had realized that as an artist, the sky is the limit. “Yester David used to tell me that I am an artist, a painter, a sculptor, a printmaker, a designer, a muralist,” says Jayesh. And he liked believing that. Today, he is a little bit of all of that his mentors wanted him to be.
One of the highlights of his academic life was the first time he sold his print. After working all night with the help of a senior who taught him etching and other processes, Jayesh made a few prints in anticipation of displaying it before his professor came next morning. To his horror, the prints were missing. At the same time, he got called into Sir’s office. As Jayesh explained his situation, he was surprised to find all his prints on the table. Right there, Sir purchased one print and gave him ₹1500.
What is interesting about his work is that he likes incompleteness. Once, when after putting his work on display, experienced people in the field of etching called him saying that his display was not valid on the account of unfinished work, Jayesh simply replied by saying, “There are no rules in print making. I am against rules and this is not a criminal matter.” His experience has also give him sound technical knowledge.
Life always is about a few chances that we take and a few that we miss. For Jayesh too, after a long, intensive conversation in jury with Anupam Sud, he was offered to join her studio in Delhi. While he refused the offer of joining her, he was awarded by ‘National Indian Printmaking Group 8’. “Had I worked there,” Jayesh says, “I would have had a big name in Indian contemporary print media.”
Jayesh’s life clearly had different plans for him. He moved to Ahmedabad, got married and started a business of printing. When he realized he was getting too comfortable, Jayesh left there and joined as a faculty in C.N fine arts. Over the years, he conducted lectures with NIFT, NID and some architecture schools. Along the way, he experienced more serendipity. He met Parth and Brinda Shah who asked him to join Rajkot’s Indubhai Parekh School of Architecture as an artist. There he was introduced to a bunch of talented, aspiring students and colleagues like Irfan Tabani with whom association has lasted for 12 long years, conducting clay workshops together. He even had the privilege to work with M.F Husain as a mentee, Bal Krishna Patel as an assistant painter, in Bhoal Bharat Bhavan as a print maker with Pramod Sharma, Yusuf and Jay Swaminathan.
Today, Jayesh is in academics again, taking lectures on sculpting at IPSA. He may have physically stepped away from the realm of print making, but mentally, the relationship still stands. While mostly his lectures are around the sculpting concepts of frames, cubes, structures, elements and observations, sometimes Jayesh gives exercises on print making to students.
Our conversation with Jayesh Shukla came to an end with us being offered garlic ginger soup with dhokla. As we looked around and he shared some of his works, my mind went back and forth to the things he had said, about the limitlessness of artists, their multi-dimensionality, their ability to flow over topics. As we moved around his home, we found his work, sculptures or paintings. Jayesh was what he promised an artist would be—limitless, multi-dimensional and flowing over multiple disciplines.
Shishma Shekh & Vaishnavi Rathore