School drop out and mom at the centre of colourful universe

Then he observed his mom, busy in her chores like cooking, cleaning, sewing and washing, all routine struggles and ordinary activities which later ignited his memorable drawings, reflecting her travails artistically…writes Quaid Najmi

For this Solapur school dropout and self-trained artist, Shashikant Vaman Dhotre, his mother Ratan remains the centre of his universe — and also the inspiration for his unique colour photographic drawings on dark paper, which have proved to be head turners and hot sellers.

Using imported pencils from the United Kingdom, and special black paper from France, Dhotre spends weeks and even up to two months to come up with his stunning creations, mostly women, their moods and their rich costumes.

“I have been devoted to my mom since childhood. I witnessed her struggles, as many a time my father – a mason – would be inebriated, and she would quietly take up the responsibility of raising her four sons and two daughters without any complaints or regrets… Whatever I am today is owing to her blessings,” Dhotre, 41, told in a free-wheeling chat.

During his teens, Dhotre — the school dropout, but a keen observer — honed his early artistry by helping his father in quarries, chiselling or carving hard stones with gentle lines to etch out different images – animals, birds, fish, flowers etc. – and developed his early passion for drawing.

Then he observed his mom, busy in her chores like cooking, cleaning, sewing and washing, all routine struggles and ordinary activities which later ignited his memorable drawings, reflecting her travails artistically.

In 2003, he bagged a scholarship in the prestigious Sir J.J. School of Arts in Mumbai — with some eminent alumni like Dhundiraj Govind alias Dadasaheb Phalke, M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, Bhanu Athaiya, Atul Dodiya, Homai Vyarawalla, Jatin Das, K.K. Hebbar, Tyeb Mehta, Uday Shankar, V.S. Gaitonde, Nana Patekar, Raj Thackeray, Jehangir Sabavala, and also Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

“However, I was forced to leave the institution in just three months due to the critical financial situation at home and as the eldest son, I plunged into earning bread-and-butter for the family,” Dhotre said.

He also decided to grab the reins of the family and his future, and soon discovered that with a simple lead pencil, he could create startling pieces of art — and attract many sponsors.

His very first creation won the Governor’s Award from the Bombay Art Society and drew attention to his unique style, drawing female figures against a black background, watching marine or flying creatures.

With his tremendous control over the pencil and his sharp observational skill, Dhotre started dishing out artworks with a combination of intricacy and simple rusticism, leaving the viewers in awe and appreciation. Time literally appears to freeze in his creations.

Having arrived on the art scene like a colossus, Dhotre picked up awards, honours and conducted exhibitions in several countries around the world, his drawings towering above the crowd of contemporary art productions… and even continued ‘experimentation’ with pencil and other mediums mostly for his own satisfaction.

This year, Dhotre has ventured into another unknown domain — filmmaking — and is currently directing a Marathi feature film, ‘Sajna’, which is due for release in mid-2023.

Dhotre is married to Namrata and the couple has two daughters — Surmai, 11, and Pali, 9.

On his fetish for darkness and whether it’s a sign of depression of his early days of struggle, Dhotre smiles and says: “I actually love black and it does not symbolise depression… Darkness is more beautiful, the entire Universe is black. Note, how multi-hued colours emerge best on a black/dark background.”

Dhotre’s drawings of women are first born as subjects, which he photographs and then uses them as the ‘model’ for his pencil to produce eye-catching masterpieces on black paper of 60×40 inches, at the rate of one or two, or at best around three a month.

In the past decade or so, the dame fortune has smiled approvingly on the Dhotre family and all are now well-settled, starting with the strong artistic foundations laid down by Dhotre and his pencils.

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