Leading Indian artist Paresh Maity spins a tapestry of life

Her forms are simple, painted in passages of brilliantly coloured hues (above, an oil on canvas work titled Love Beyond Measure). -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
Her forms are simple, painted in passages of brilliantly coloured hues (above, an oil on canvas work titled Love Beyond Measure). -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
Goswami’s Cubist semi-abstract figures (above, an oil on canvas titled Vacation) in paintings and murals have been praised for their vitality and translucent, brilliant colours. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
Goswami’s Cubist semi-abstract figures (above, an oil on canvas titled Vacation) in paintings and murals have been praised for their vitality and translucent, brilliant colours. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
His village women (above, in an untitled work) have skin the colour of charcoal and their voluptuous bodies are sheathed in saris in bold colours. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
His village women (above, in an untitled work) have skin the colour of charcoal and their voluptuous bodies are sheathed in saris in bold colours. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
Burman, 54, who is inspired by Indian folk art, will show new paintings drawing on Indian folk traditions, such as Parivar (above). -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
Burman, 54, who is inspired by Indian folk art, will show new paintings drawing on Indian folk traditions, such as Parivar (above). -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
The dream-like quality of his paintings – such as Untitled (above), an oil on canvas – brings to life an enchanting world. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
The dream-like quality of his paintings – such as Untitled (above), an oil on canvas – brings to life an enchanting world. -- PHOTO: SANCHIT ART
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).PHOTOS: SANCHIT ART, SATISH LUTHRA
More experimental works: Maity's Memory (above), which comprised lanterns and a boat to evoke his hometown of Tamluk, and an installation featuring engines of Enfield motorcycles shaped as ants (right). Both were shown at Art Stage Singapore.
More experimental works: Maity's Memory (above), which comprised lanterns and a boat to evoke his hometown of Tamluk, and an installation featuring engines of Enfield motorcycles shaped as ants (right). Both were shown at Art Stage Singapore.PHOTOS: PARESH MAITY, ART STAGE
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).PHOTOS: SANCHIT ART, SATISH LUTHRA
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).PHOTOS: SANCHIT ART, SATISH LUTHRA
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).
The paintings on show by Paresh Maity (far right) include Intimacy (right) and Eternal Light (below, right).PHOTOS: SANCHIT ART, SATISH LUTHRA

Acclaimed Paresh Maity is one of seven Indian artists showing their works here next week

Paresh Maity, one of India's most decorated and commercially successful contemporary artists, says the pressure on him has become "even more intense" after he received the Padma Shri, one of the country's top civilian honours.

He was on a desert safari in the north-western Indian state of Rajasthan when his name was announced for the honour in January. The 49-year-old received his medal and citation from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in a ceremony on March 31.

He adds in a telephone interview: "With an award such as the Padma Shri comes even greater responsibility. I need to continue creating quality art that can add to the richness and diversity of India and Indian art across the globe."

Ever the restless globe-trotter, the chatty artist was speaking to Life! from London, where he is travelling in search of inspiration for his next project.

He will be in Singapore next week for the second edition of Kala Sutra, arguably the biggest Indian contemporary art outing here in recent years. It is organised by a New Delhi-based gallery, Sanchit Art, and Singapore's Phi Events.

Kala Sutra, which runs at The Arts House from May 23 to 25, will present not just artworks by the who's who of contemporary Indian art, but also the seven artists themselves in discussions about their art practice. It comes as Indian art continues to draw global interest amid a surge in popularity for Asian art.

In a break from postmodern conceptual art, the exhibition offers a mix of paintings with folk and mythological influences. Viewed together, they are a representation of modern India, where the traditional and the contemporary co-exist, defying labels often used in the West.

In all, there will be around 70 artworks - mostly paintings and some sculptures - with prices ranging from $12,000 to $170,000.

Maity has long made headlines with his work, which is in several prestigious collections including those of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and the British Museum in London. He has had more than 100 solo and group exhibitions around the world.

He is known internationally for his vibrant palette and use of colours to evoke everyday scenes and people encountered in India.

One prominent example is his large 244m mural, The Indian Odyssey, which depicts India's colours, people, art and architecture. It is a centrepiece at New Delhi International Airport's Terminal 3.

He says he looks for inspiration in the myriad expressions of the human face and the places he visits throughout the land.

"As a contemporary artist, I want to continue showing that our art can be rooted in our traditions and culture," he says.

Two of his canvases on show in Singapore draw on these elements. Intimacy, a 91.4x91.4cm oil on canvas, is a study of human emotions through the face. The artist says: "The human face is a reflection of a life lived. It captures so many emotions - love, laughter, sorrow, sadness. I like to bring these alive through my canvases."

Another evocative oil on canvas, titled Eternal Light, is his re-visitation of Banaras, one of the most ancient and holiest places for Hindus and an important pilgrimage destination in north India. He first visited the city in the 1980s when he was an art student.

Also known as Varanasi, Banaras is considered the abode of the Hindu deity Shiva, the lord of the universe. The city is on the west bank of the Ganges, considered the holiest of Indian rivers, and its river banks are lined with 18th- and 19th-century pavilions and temples.

Maity has returned to the city countless times, drawing inspiration from the people, the Ganges, the ghats - broad flights of steps leading to the bank of the river - and the old homes which add to the character of the city. He says there is something "magical" about it and it is impossible not to fall under its spell.

He is, however, capable of finding inspiration not just in India but also all over the world.

Singapore's multiculturalism also inspires him, says Maity, who is married to fellow artist Jayasri Burman. He says: "I like that I get to hear so many sounds from around the world in one city. It is very modern, yet rooted in tradition."

He first exhibited here in 1999 as part of a group show at the Singapore Art Museum. Since then, his art has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions in the country.

That there is great demand for his vibrant canvases is apparent in the pricing and the demand for his art. In 2004, at a sold-out solo show in Singapore at The Arts House, his art sold in the range of $4,000 to $10,000.

Fast forward to January this year, when his artworks were shown at a solo exhibition at The Arts House and top-end contemporary art fair Art Stage. They were priced between $90,000 and $150,000.

He is also one of the few Asian artists who has been represented in all editions of the fair since its inception in 2011.

Studying his body of work, one can observe two Paresh Maitys.

While his gallery shows are often focused on vivid and decorative art that sells, he takes care to showcase at art fairs large-scale installations and paintings more suited for museum collections. In these works, he experiments with media and topics that he is not immediately associated with as a painter, and shows that "art can be made out of anything", as he puts it.

In 2011, it was his trips to junkyards, sourcing materials and ideas for his art, that resulted in the installation featuring engines of Enfield motorcycles, which showed at Art Stage Singapore.

Watching ants on the move in his village home in Tamluk, West Bengal, gave him the idea of turning the motorcycle engines into the body of an ant and attaching headlights to its head to look like eyes. More than 100 bikes were taken apart to create 50 1.5m-long ants, artfully arranged on top of a mass of sticks and leaves which created a woodsy setting.

The next year, in the same fair, he took a step back and evoked the simplicity of childhood memories. His installation, Memory, was made up of 360 flickering lanterns, a boat, fishing nets and the sound of waves. It conveyed Tamluk, the sleepy coastal town that he grew up in.

He recalls his humble childhood, where he had his first encounter with an electric light only in his teens. "My life was very simple. I grew up with boats and lanterns, which have been recurring themes in my watercolours and paintings."

Participating in Art Stage Singapore for the third time last year, he used watercolour to create large, intriguing landscapes in his solo show titled River Of Memories. He traced his relationship with rivers to his childhood when he accompanied family and friends to the village river to immerse idols of the Hindu goddess Durga. The result: works inspired by swirling tides and issues of mortality.

In his gallery shows, viewers get to see more canvases with his signature abstract style and angular, geometric shapes. He uses lines as subtle indications of his subject's expressions, such as the brooding contours of the eyes.

While these works have a global audience today, his journey into the art world has been anything but easy.

"I had to run away from home because my father, who worked as a government clerk, did not approve of my art activities," says Maity. "I was playing with clay from the time I was seven and making clay objects and selling them. My father felt it was all a waste of time."

Tamluk is famous for its terracotta art and the artist started by watching local artisans make clay idols and eventually learnt to make his own clay images of gods and goddesses. He later had a formal art education at Kolkata's Government College of Art and Craft and the New Delhi College of Art.

Aside from his journeys across India and the world, he says being married to a prominent artist for the last 18 years has helped shape his art in profound ways.

While Burman and he create stylistically very different works, he says they are both drawn to colour. "An artist also understands another artist's struggle," he says, summing up their partnership.

The theme of struggle in his life was most recently referenced in a work at Art Stage. Titled Story Of Life, it was made up of nine metal trunks. It was his way of paying homage to his youth and his days as an art student, when for want of other storage facilities, he used a metal trunk to store his drawings and watercolours.

He admits his life has been a struggle, but that he has not walked this path alone. "What is life without a little struggle?" he asks, ending this interview with a question, as deeply reflective as the canvases he is known for.

deepikas@sph.com.sg


Other artists to look out for

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Sakti Burman

Paris-based Burman, 79, is a renowned painter known for his rich imagery of Indian myths and fables. The dream-like quality of his paintings - such as Untitled, an oil on canvas - brings to life an enchanting world.

He studied at the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata, and later at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. He had his first solo show in 1954 in Kolkata, and has since exhibited across the world including galleries in London, Paris, Milan and Zurich.

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Jayasri Burman

Burman, 54, who is inspired by Indian folk art, will show new paintings drawing on Indian folk traditions, such as Parivar. She attributes her modern re-interpretation of Indian myths to the influence of her uncle, Sakti Burman. Born in Kolkata, she studied art at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan from 1977 to 1979 and the Visual College of Art, Kolkata, from 1979 to 1980. Her works are in the permanent collections of New Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art and Lalit Kala Akademi.

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Thota Vaikuntam

Vaikuntam, 72, is known for his Telangana Women series, which redefined the concept of beauty in India. His village women (in an untitled work) have skin the colour of charcoal and their voluptuous bodies are sheathed in saris in bold colours. Born in Borogupally in Andhra Pradesh, he studied with great Indian pioneering artists such as K.G. Subramanyam at the Maharaja Satyajiro University in Vadodara. In 1993, he received India's prestigious National Award for Painting. Today, his pieces are often seen at international auctions.

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Neeraj Goswami

Goswami's Cubist semi-abstract figures ( an oil on canvas titled Vacation) in paintings and murals have been praised for their vitality and translucent, brilliant colours. They have mystical connotations and reflect on journeys, revelations, enlightenment and prayer.

Born in Patna, in Bihar state, the 50-year-old artist received his Master of Arts (Painting) degree from Delhi College of Arts. He has held solo exhibition around the world, including in New York, Paris, Mumbai and Kolkata. He also has several murals to his name, the most recent being a large piece for the Delhi Metro.

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Arpana Caur

Caur, 60, grew up in the aftermath of the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Her physician grandfather tended to the poor and the destitute, and as a young girl, she helped distribute rice, food and blankets to the homeless. These themes became key elements in her work. Her forms are simple, painted in passages of brilliantly coloured hues (an oil on canvas work titled Love Beyond Measure).

Her paintings are rooted in Indian imagery such as that of Gautama Buddha or a stylised tree. Her canvases explore a range of issues including the plight of women, violence and the cycle of life and death.

Her artworks are in several collections including that of the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

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Jogen Chowdhury

Chowdhury, 75, is called the "master of the unbroken line" because his lines are emotive and used to express a person's character. This is done by distorting the form without breaking the line.

Having experienced the traumatic effects of the Partition of India twice - first of India and Pakistan in 1947 and then the formation of Bangladesh in 1971 - his figures reflect a sense of isolation.

Born in the former East Bengal, he was awarded a French government scholarship in 1965 to study art at the prestigious Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. When he returned to India, he became a curator of the presidential estate's art collection in New Delhi. He later became a teacher and academic administrator at Santiniketan university in West Bengal.


Up close and personal with artists

1. Indian Contemporary Art - Past, Present And Future

This discussion features artists Sakti Burman, Jogen Chowdhury, Arpana Caur, Paresh Maity and Neeraj Goswami. Moderated by Life! arts correspondent Deepika Shetty.

Where: The Chambers, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

When: May 22, 7.30 to 8.30pm

2. In Conversation With Arpana Caur

Caur's paintings are an excellent blend of recognisably Asian symbols such as Lord Buddha and an exploration of universal ideas such as those of time and the cycle of life and death. Her forms are often simple, painted in passages of brilliantly coloured hues.

She will talk about the deeply meditative quality of her artworks as well as cover the processes and techniques of her art-making.

Where: Blue Room, The Arts House

When :May 23, 11.30am to 1pm

3. The Artist's Journey

Kala Sutra exhibition curator Arun Ghose will have a dialogue with all the seven artists who are in town for the show's opening. They will talk about the ideas and inspiration driving their art as well as their current practice.

Where: Blue Room, The Arts House

When: May 23, 6 to 7.30pm

Admission to all talks and panel discussions is free. Registration is recommended. Call 9152-2680 or 9850-3187 to register.

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