It’s unusual to find an art gallery that isn’t just that, and named after its own address. 1, Shanthi Road was once a building that was not initially an art space; it was built up into a multi-use space to include an art gallery, living spaces for the artists to work in, and domestic spaces as well. This unusual journey was undertaken by artist and auteur Suresh Jayaram.
“The ideology” says Suresh Jayaram, sitting at his ‘office’ table in the open quadrangle of the art gallery, “was to have a living space that would also work as an open house in every sense of the word. The idea took shape in 2003; however, the concrete first step in realising his vision came when, after taking premature retirement as the principal of Chitra Kala Parishath at the age of 41, he started to look for an architect who would share his vision and also take it further. He needed someone who would make innovative use of space, given that this was a limited commodity in a house in the centre of the city in Shanthi Nagar. Another constraint was the budget; Suresh Jayaram had to mortgage his mother’s home to get a loan. “I wanted to be in the heart of the central art district, and be able to interact with the city’s art scene,” he remarks. Gallery Skye and Sumukha, two well-known art galleries, are a stone’s throw from 1, Shanthi Road.
The search for an architect ended when Suresh Jayaram liked the work that Meeta Jain had done on artist Sheela Gowda’s home. “Meeta is an architect who is very good with open spaces,” says Suresh. “We both had our ideas on small details like lighting, display, and each of us brought different suggestions to the table,” he says, pointing to the track lights above him. Meeta is an architect who has won an award from the Architecture Digest for her use of open spaces.”I knew I was building in a prime location, and did not want to break any rules” she says.
The existing house was about twenty years old. Suresh Jayaram’s parents did not interfere in the process, but the creation of the gallery was not without its hiccups. The corporation came and did complain, but at no time was there any variation from the rules. “We used quite a lot of cost-cutting devices, such as buying up old doors and windows and integrating them into the house” remarks Suresh Jayaram. 1, Shanthi Road, he says, is “not a low-cost construction, but a cost-effective one.” The construction allows a lot of natural light within the building. The spaces exist around two open courtyards, and one surrounds a beautiful badam tree, which, to Suresh Jayaram, is the centre of the whole space. “The badam tree is older than I am,” he laughs “saving that tree while building the house has given me immense satisfaction”.
There is a living area for Suresh Jayaram and his family members, living space for the artists who stay there and work, and the public display spaces of the gallery. The two staircases in the gallery are a very unusual feature, and link up the various spaces in innovative ways. “An accommodation in a flat is very uninspiring,” says Suresh Jayaram. “Meeta helped in creating a space for multiple uses, and for visual and performing art.” It is a not-for-profit space, and it gives the resident artists access to the artists’ community, a library and archive, and an internet connection as well. “It’s a building that has evolved in a very organic way, and I see it as an oasis in the city,” says Suresh Jayaram. “We can all foregather here, and we cook together. I think that when we eat together, there is a sense of community and it’s a way of sharing. We are relating to each other in a neutral space.” He had noted how Ranga Shankara had become a dedicated theatre space, and wanted a similar space for artists, where artists could spend time without pressure.
“It’s been a very special project,” says Meeta Jain, who constructed most of the art gallery in 2003, building one residence and a studio, and added another studio in 2007. It was a challenge to work within the restrictions of space and money, and create an indoor/outdoor kind of space in which areas flowed into one another. A residence-cum-studio was a new idea, and, she says, “the myriad connected spaces that I have created are very satisfying.”
Multi-tasking- for the sake of art
Having built the gallery, what is its economic model? “Oh,” laughs Suresh Jayaram, “This was a calculated risk! I had always decided that if the space was not viable as an art gallery, I would rent it out as a residential space, but I never imagined that it would be so successful!” The art gallery has been just about breaking even, but it was always meant as a not-for-profit space, so that doesn’t bother Suresh Jayaram. “We try to have one show a month, and we ask the artists to donate 10 percent of their sales for overhead costs.” The commercial angle of art cannot be denied, he muses, but at the same time, it shouldn’t take over to the point where the artist’s needs are subsumed. 1, Shanthi Road was meant for showcasing experimental art, and to this end, Suresh Jayaram says he doesn’t differentiate between art and craft. He organises film shows, and has shown a series of films on and about artists. The gallery curates short films and puts them together, has had a craft fair, showcasing the work of artists and craftspeople working with terracotta; there have also been discussions and poetry readings, with no money involved. “This is a unique space, built to cater for multiple uses and visual AND performing arts” says Suresh Jayaram. He is planning art appreciation classes in the near future, too, as he feels, the more knowledge the members of the public have, the more democratic art is going to become. Art investors also come to Suresh Jayaram for guidance in choosing the works that will adorn their homes. While keeping an eye on the commercial value, Suresh Jayaram emphasises that an investor should only keep art that s/he can truly enjoy looking at as well. Aesthetics come foremost, the commercial aspect comes later.
The networking of 1, Shanthi Road with other art spaces, galleries and artists is greatly enhanced by the fact that the gallery now belongs to a network of artists called KHOJ. With KHOJ comes association with names like Pooja Sood, Harsha Surekha, Babu and Raghavendra and Ramesh who are all local artists.”The internet is a great tool for us,” smiles Suresh Jayaram. The International Artists’ Association also gives 1,Shanthi Road connections all over the world, and word of mouth is the best advertisement for the gallery.
However, the economics of running an art gallery have to be addressed, and from next year, Suresh Jayaram says, rent and electricity will probably be charged. Meanwhile, in an effort to sustain this with private and public partnership, he hopes to find a sponsor whose vision will match his. “This has been a labour of love, and today, the gallery is well-known in art circles everywhere. It has to be taken forward,” he says. “Lack of institutional support is frustrating, indeed, but I continue to knock on all the doors I know of!”
“Five years of survival in the art world, with a good brand recognition, is very satisfying indeed,” says Suresh Jayaram happily. “This gallery is like a chameleon, and will change and grow according to the time,” he predicts confidently. Is Suresh Jayaram looking to replicate 1, Shanthi Road elsewhere in the country. “No,” he says, satisfied with what he has achieved in Bangalore. “This is a one-off attempt, and I would like it to be unique.”
Let’s wish this gallery, whose address is its identity and name, success in the years to come.
For more information about the gallery and KHOJ, visit their website ⊕