Shakti Maira is an Indian artist,sculptor,printmaker, writer. Well thats what his Wikipedia page says, and all those conversant with his work know. But what the black and white words do not tell you is that Maira is an artist who does not play to the gallery (literally), whose art exhibits visible passion--be it the sculptures or the paintings, and for whom creative expression includes all possible forms. Including writing, with his latest book The Promise of Beauty and Why It Matters released in New Delhi recently. The Citizen caught up with Maira at the India International Centre at his recent exhibition of sculptures in wood, and bronze and of paintings ranging from elqouent nudes to Babri Masjid. Excerpts from a freewheeling interview with Maira:

Q. You write, you paint, you are a sculptor... is it tough? Or is it that you just need to express your art in every possible way?

No, I don’t find it difficult. It seems quite natural to me to use these different mediums to express the range of concerns and ideas I have. I think we all drew and painted and sculpted and wrote when we were younger? I just never lost interest in all these different forms, and continued to do them in varying intensities. I enjoyed reading though I hated grammar.

I have been painting and sculpting since I was a child. Always liked them, and by most accounts was very good at them. Mayo College, the school I studied at, had a strong art department with excellent painting and sculpture facilities. Painting and sculpting are based in the common root of seeing and visual forms. Both are plastic mediums with many overlaps – shapes, depth, light and shade. Painting in addition has the delightful language of colour.

I am actually surprised that many more painters don’t sculpt. In my journey, these two plastic arts have been highly symbiotic. Working three dimensionally has helped me understand form and made my drawings and paintings more perceptive, more spatial.

Writing however is something I came to much later in life. I still have little or no knowledge of grammar - I just write as I speak. For me, writing as a medium of expression began when I came back to India fifteen years ago and was grappling with the reality of the art scene in India. I started writing articles and columns because I was concerned by what was going on. My first book Towards Ananda: Rethinking Indian Arts and Aesthetics, to express these concerns and create an understanding. It was published by Penguin in 2006.

My new book The Promise of Beauty & Why it Matters formed in my concern and despair about the loss of beauty and the huge misunderstanding about its importance. I guess I write when I am sufficiently vexed and exasperated. While my art making is more a journey into the sensory, emotional and spiritual.

Q. What's your favourite medium for expression, where you find yourself at your most creative?

Well, I think I am equally creative in all these mediums. They serve different expressive and communicative needs. In writing I am able to say things, discuss and argue, and engage with a range and depth of intellectual ideas and concern. So it is my favourite medium for that sort of thing. With paintings and sculpture I am able to go much deeper into the sensory and tactile world, and the emotional world, and the world where the conscious mind meets the sub-conscious mind.

I am able to journey into a world of delight, and into the many dimensions where perception and understanding are wordless, and exist in different relationships and continuities. At perhaps a more prosaic level, cooking is another medium of creative expression for me. I find this is something many artists like to do, and typically we put things together imaginatively rather than follow recipes.

Q. Do you think people in general understand art, or is it the fashionable thing to pretend to do? And is that frustrating at times for the artist?

For me it is way less important that people understand art than that they respond to it. In fact, when people come to exhibitions and try and understand the art on display, I try and tell them to quieten their information seeking, analytical left-brain activity, and instead allow their right-brains to function. Art is a different language. It offers activation of different neural pathways. It allows for the activation of sensorial and emotional intelligences. It enables experiences that can be pleasurable, insightful, immersive – in the sense you are taken away from your usual mind activity temporarily, and can even transformational.

So understanding shouldn’t be such an issue. Few people engage with art these days, and I imagine that most of them are there because art is meaningful and satisfying to them. There are of course always a few who are there to be seen, and are pretending to be interested in art. For them it is a social and status activity. At my exhibition I can confidently say the people who came engaged with and responded wonderfully to the art.

Q. Art means money, with the result that many of those who truly love and understand art cannot even own a painting from a recognised artist. Isn't that unfair and somehow just not right?

At the high end art has become an investment instrument. Artists have become brands and producers of a luxury product. People buy, and be seen at auctions buying, hugely expensive art. It is their way to announce and establish their wealth and material success. There are very few artists who are not functionaries in this art industry. Yes, it is very difficult for many people who like art to buy good art, because art has become a luxury good and like all luxury goods it has become priced very high. In a sense, it has to be. In the luxury marketplace high prices are a primary way in which value is established.

High price equals high worth. But there are a few recognized artists who are sensitive to this issue, and their prices are not unreasonable. They tend to be largely outside the gallery circuit. I see myself in this small group. Art lovers need to know about them, find them and reach them, perhaps through word-of-mouth.

Q. Poetry, theatre, music, books are all affordable. What can be done to bring paintings and sculptures closer to the common person?

You don’t have to own art to engage with it. People don’t have to have money to go to an art exhibition, or art museum. These are free or with small ticket prices. So they are really as affordable as theatre or music performances. People can also buy art books and art prints if they want to be able to see the work at home.

The internet has thrown open museum collections around the world for free. I don’t think it is affordability, that is keeping people away from getting to see art, it is a lack of interest, or a lack of cultivation of interest. I think there could be more public art. The laws requiring a small percentage of the budget for new public buildings to be spent on art could see greater enthusiasm and compliance. Corporate CSR funds could support the arts so that it becomes more abundant and more accessible to the common man.

I wonder If books can be borrowed from the library, why not art? Though, in my library, the art books cannot be borrowed, they are for reference only! If, however, we are talking of owning a unique, hand-made piece of art, then people must pay their artists well, and perhaps forego some of their outlandish kharchas on expensive restaurants, weddings, clothes and holidays. You can get very good art between Rs 25,000 and 5,00,000. The problem is that people by and large are philistines, and do not have cultural habits that include the arts.