From Mumbai I have traversed a distance of 1,281 kms in 14 hours (courtesy the Avadh Express) to Firozabad, however there is still some time before I reach my final destination.
After alighting at the station, I make my way through the dusty streets in a cycle rickshaw, passing the occasional fair maiden draped in traditional ‘ghoonghat’. All of a sudden the cycle rickshaw’s mini-tape recorder blares to life ‘Gori hain kalaiyan Tu laade mujhe hari hari choodiyan Apna bana le mujhe saajna …Gori hain kalaiyan.’
Though it seems here that I should indulge in some philandering given the choice of song, my reason for being here is completely different. But I must add there couldn’t have been a more apt song for Firozabad – the city of glass and bangles.
With sunrays eyeing me through the apertures between rows of brick houses lined up like an army of soldiers, Chandwar Nager, as this city was known earlier, houses the studio of Atul Bakshi, a well-known glass artist who has been working with this medium for the past 20 years – and I am here to interview him.
After my short introduction we get going, “As a child stained glass panels at churches always captivated me. My sojourn all across the world, especially European countries during my tenure with the merchant navy exposed me to glass as an art, reviving my childhood fascination for the medium,” says Atul Bakshi.
In the backdrop the click and clang of hammer and tongs with karigars busy in the workshop lit with fluorescent tube lights is a constant reminder of the creative space I have settled in. Our conversation continues, “Unlike paint on canvas in which each stroke is dictated by the artist, glass as a medium is accustomed to a degree of autonomy, especially the work that I do with molten glass, has a lot of the medium’s own will at work.”
The artist explains that one can plan the shapes of the casts, colours or the contour, but once the molten glass is poured there is only a window of 30 seconds where the creator can intervene. The medium’s final form is its own doing. No matter how similar two pieces may be at the onset, molten glass has a mind of its own and no two pieces have identical outcomes.
There are essentially two formats of glass work that Atul Bakshi Studio engages in – the hot glass work which is mostly done in Firozabad, while the stained glass or cold glass work is done at another studio based in Delhi. Here Atul along with his team creates stained glass pieces from 30 feet danglers to 30 cm sun catchers.
Talking about teams, it took Atul a considerable amount of time to impart the exact skill sets required to enable his karigars to understand his sensibilities; however after twenty five years in the trade, he is confident about his array of specialists, “Post conceptualisation, each project is executed by the team under my supervision,” he points out.
Bakshi has worked with a number of hotels; his body of work adorns many corporate offices and commercial premises. The Glass Danglers installation, a signature across Lemon Tree Hotels in the country, was the first time he gave stained glass a multi planar form, breaking away from the conventional single plane form that stained glass is most commonly seen as across the world.
Amongst his latest work, Mother Nature, Together and Woman Awaiting are a few pieces that have given him immense satisfaction in its final form. However it is the “Fountain of Oneness” that is closest to his heart because of the sheer magnitude and its prominence.
The “Fountain of Oneness” consists of a water body with dancing fountains. A path leads from the four corners into the inner space. The space further has two sets of spheres; the inner, made of clear crystal and blown glass and the outer, an opening petal, like a flowering Earth.
From cast and blown glass to stained glass and a number of public art to his credit Atul says that the medium caters to a niche audience and is still relatively lesser known “Honestly,” he rues “I wish there was more public attention on the medium”.
While the majority of cast glass and hot glass sculptural work is Atul’s own doing, stained glass forms a larger chunk of the commissioned work. “Public art definitely gets more eye balls, but it’s usually the stained glass and blown glass work that I do at private premises, be it hotels or homes that bring in more queries to the studio”.
With the sun sinking in the horizon and the onset of twilight our conversation continues over a cup of tea and munchies, but not before I get to see the man in action at his workshop. And as I get ready to leave the studio I promise to meet him again in his other studio located at Vasant Kunj in New Delhi which deals with stained glass or cold glass work.
New Delhi here I come!
Text By Vikas Bhadra