Dashrath Patel`s death marks end of a design era

New Delhi: At 83, design guru Dashrath Patel was planning an exhibition of his works, ‘Retro’, around the world when death came.

Design guru and the founder secretary of the National Institute of Design (NID), Patel passed away Wednesday in Ahmedabad after a brief illness. Born in Sojitra, Gujarat, in 1927, he was an unusual Patel with a flair for creativity rather than commerce.

Patel, who remained a bachelor, studied fine arts in Chennai and then went to Paris to study painting, sculpture and ceramics. A self-taught artist, he made a name for himself in the world of arts in the 1950s.

He was the first to be conferred a Padma Shri for design in 1980. He gave NID a modern vision and definite direction for 20 years with inspiring ideas and design exhibitions.

"Patel was a person of great vision. He could think ahead of his time. He had designed two festivals of India exhibitions featuring the best of Indian craft and design which travelled around the world to many countries," Pradymna Vyas, director of NID, told reporters over telephone from Ahmedabad.

One of them was the ‘The World is My Family’ on Mahatma Gandhi in 1969.

He took Indian design to the world in the mid-1960s, Vyas said. "His biggest contribution was to the field of ceramics, exhibition design and paintings."

"Patel`s tenure as the member-secretary of NID was one of the longest. He steered the course of NID till 1981," he said.

According to designer Neelam Chibber of Mother Earth in Bangalore, Patel "epitomised the whole art of possibility".

"The key element of design lies in making the impossible happen. Impossible things can be made possible. As he was not from an educated background, Patel`s design and art were characterised by a childlike freshness," Chibber, an NID alumnus, told reporters.

"He was around on the NID campus during our junior years in the early 1980s. A warm and a genuine person, he did a great job of explaining concepts to juniors and was always willing to transfer knowledge. He was very inspiring," Chibber said.

A versatile personality, Patel was not only an artist, designer and photographer but also a philosopher. A contemporary of artists Tyeb Mehta, M.F. Husain and Gaitonde, who exhibited their works together in Mumbai, he was initiated into photography by the legendary Henry Cartier Bresson. He had photographed Bresson at work.

Patel also worked closely with American designer Charles Eames, Indian artist Harendranath Chattopadhyay, dancer Chandralekha and several others.

Some of his works are on display in Mumbai.