Jai Zharotia (1945-2021) was an Indian painter, sculptor, poet, printmaker, and ceramicist born in New Delhi in 1945, in a humble craftsman family that lived life with simplicity. A self-driven struggle and sensitive nature pushed him towards literary and artistic pursuits. A believer in destiny, for Jai, his life has been shaped by forces that were beyond his control. His works celebrate his aspirations, dreams, and his empathies for the world.
He was born in an impoverished family to his father, Kundan Lal, and mother, Nando Devi. Before his birth, the latter migrated to Delhi from Bharatpur to escape from the British army's atrocities. His father was a very talented civil construction worker known for his structural acumen among his peer group. Sustenance was the central issue in those days. His mother was a housewife who equally supported his husband by selling vegetables and groceries. Thus, Jai supported his family from a very young age, helping his mother fetch vegetables from the wholesale market every morning. In addition, he occasionally used to do some odd jobs like ironing clothes, selling magazines, etc.
Since his early days, he has been a very distinctive child. He was never satisfied with himself. He started doing calendar art, making gods and goddesses with great mysticism. He was always eager to conceive something and explore the unknown. Later, He took up the job of a hoarding painter, where he had to travel to different parts of the country and paint. To be sure about his vocational choice, he reinforced his involvement by studying Diploma in Fine Arts. His evolution as an artist was gradual after he trained himself in paintings and acquired a Diploma in Art from 1967-71.
He was constantly trying to unwrap something or the other, experimenting as if he was on an eternal quest to find the indescribable deeply rooted in the depth of his inner cosmos. It was as if there were layers veiled underneath, and he had to skin them, one by one. Nevertheless, his disposition was so curious that he once took some money from his house and bought apparatus to do some unusual science experiments. His struggle and daily scuffle of life compelled him to take steps that brought unexpected changes in his life. It grew into a visual vocabulary that goes beyond reality into indefinite realms of consciousness.
Jai was noticed by Roshen Alkazi in early 1970 when he went on to exhibit in Kunika Chemould Gallery, the Black Partridge Gallery. He did his most important solo show at Art Heritage before joining the College of Art, Delhi as a lecturer in Painting in 1974. As an artist-teacher, he was relaxed and least dogmatic in his art teaching. He wanted students to seek creativity by themselves. He worked in his studio at the college for students to gain experience—his ability to demonstrate various art techniques and was never confined to a single style or theme.
A man committed to his calling, for Jai, art was not a means to earn a livelihood. He was never sure that his viewers would easily consume his works that reflect a subjective world and individual emotional states. Teaching was, in fact, his way of a stable income while he pained what he wished to paint. His journey as an artist who struggled to stay above the poverty line and strived for recognition and artistic success has been extraordinary. He remained rooted in his tradition and culture while he experimented with a modernist approach to art-making.
His voyage not only explores deep metaphysical questions of existence, but it is also closer to the artist's personal history too. When he retired as a Professor from the College of Art New Delhi, this progression became more intense. He submerged deeply into the spectacle of space, form, and colors. He was overwhelmed with his quest for the unknown; he was meticulously trying to achieve the state of singularity with his work, self, and the anonymous.
He said "Instead of using a straightforward narrative, I'm more interested in creating a universal language of symbols that transcend the personal. The floating boat, for example, rocks through the roughs and produces swirling water, becoming a symbol of the instability of life, which is always in a constant state of flow. The man indicates satisfaction, the denial of the mundane in life, or the search for new horizons. "