World of Paresh Maity
forms, flowing colours, movement and stillness co-exist in Paresh Maity’s work. For absolute luminescence, interplay of warm hues and vibrant colours and a criss-cross of the figurative, representative and stylised art, topped with academic technique, Maity has a unique place on the Indian art scene. There is the unmistakable ‘soulfulness’ of mood and memory, sweep and slash of colours and the transparent depth of his watercolours that makes Maity’s artistry a wonderful coalescence of art and thought. Like Turner, who pioneered the great age of British watercolours, Maity weaves into his psychological stream the many faces of nature — the colours of the sea, the pitter-patter of raindrops. He talked to
on the eve of his show at CIMA in Kolkata in 1993, and then later in August 2005 just before this book went into print. Excerpts:
Paresh Maity: I wanted to be known as a hardworking artist
From Tamluk to
Venice is a long journey. Has nature always been a part of your
psyche and surroundings?
I was born in
Tamluk, a suburban town near the Bay of Bengal. Throughout my
childhood, nature was omnipresent. It was there in the sprawling
green fields, the ever-changing sky, and in all the other
objects around me. I used to sit on the beach and watch the
clouds, the dawn and marvel at the changing colours of the sky.
Looking at the colours of the sky became such a natural part of
me. In those days you had to become either an engineer or a
doctor. Nevertheless, I had made up my mind and went to Kolkata.
After 10 days in Kolkata, I came to Delhi. But I did not have
enough money to enrol in the College of Art, so I went back.
In Kolkata I used
to visit the Victoria Memorial Hall to see the paintings. I saw
works by Rembrandt, Turner, Constable, Winslow Homer and all the
Western masters. I wanted to be like them — I wanted to be
known as a hardworking artist. I liked the way Rembrandt used
light. I tried to capture his method of sourcing the light. I
also admired the Impressionists very much. I liked the Cubist
phase of Picasso, too, but I think that Rembrandt, Winslow Homer
and Turner became my favourites.
In those days, I
used to travel all over India. I went to Kerala, to Kulu-Manali,
to Rajasthan — but wherever I went, I painted nature. Whenever
I get tired of the city, it’s as if nature beckons, and I go.
In the 1990s, I went to France and Germany, and to Venice. I
would carry not just my watercolour paper, but also a small
camera. It was the atmosphere that I wanted to capture. Yes, I
think that the atmosphere has become a part of me — I want to
understand more and more about nature. I feel it is never
Celebration-III. Oil on canvas, 2003.
Let’s talk about
your Delhi experience. There is no sea here, only buildings and
trees and extreme weather. How did you respond to Delhi?
I think my reason
for coming here was for the opportunities it provides.
Delhi gives an
artist a platform, it also helps to build your reputation, and I
think the winter in Delhi is fantastic. I love the way people
huddle together near open fires, the way the mist and the fog
descend — it reminds me of a British winter. I believe that
Delhi is a vital link in the market process of the artist. When
I held my first show in 1990, I remember the critic Krishna
Chaitanya — he was like a guru — I eagerly wanted to see
what he would write. I believe what the critic says is so
crucial, he forms a bridge between the artist and the viewer.
Canticle of colour. Watercolour on paper, 2001
And so many times
I have heard people coming to a gallery and saying, "We
read the review in The Asian Age, or some other newspaper
and came by." Ten years ago it was not so crowded. It was
nice to be in Delhi — no pollution and fewer vehicles.
Delhi gives me an
alternate take on life. Delhi is what I return to. I am on the
move all the time. Sometimes I am in France, sometimes I go to
Venice, or to Germany, but I think it is the south of France and
Venice that particularly fascinate me. I go to these places only
to paint. I paint in Delhi too — but Delhi provides
intellectual stimulation. It has a way of captivating intimacy
which I cannot describe, and I feel that it pulls you and draws
Many of your works in the
earlier years were traditional watercolours — landscapes.
Then, in the early 1990s, figures started appearing in your
works. At times there is an evanescent feel in your watercolours
— the figures in the oils seem to melt into one another. How
have you blended the abstract into the realist?
In watercolours, I have always
wanted to paint the trees, the moisture-laden clouds drifting
across a blue sky, little boats lashed by the waves or the
sights of a rainy day. But over the years, I have also brought
in female and male forms with animals and birds. When I look at
nature now, it has to have man and woman, animals and birds. I
fact, one of the places I frequently visit in December is
Talsari — the fishing coast in Orissa — where I sit and
watch the sky on a moonlit night. I also watch the lone figure
of the fisherman. How can I forget him? He becomes a part of the
watercolour. My response also becomes a part of what I
Lord Ganesha. Oil on canvas, 2004
Yes, you’ve always reacted to
things that you see.
Do you remember how I used to
come to your home and pick up Prabuddha Dasgupta’s book Women?
I used to sit and look at those photographs every day for many
months. I feel that my work reflects my attitudes, and my
approach to life. Also, my personality integrates itself into
the paintings. Just as I do not like the harsh side of life, my
paintings too have no harshness — they only reflect what is
soft and soothing. It isn’t only nature that inspires me, it
is also people. Even a small incident remains in my memory. I
like to look for mysterious notions, for lyrical quality and a
touch of the poetic.
An impressionistic vision.....
When I go to Venice, the sights
and sounds of the cafes, the water reflected by the single shaft
of sunlight dancing on the edge of the gondola — all these
captivate me. Any scene makes me want to pick up the paper and
brush. As for the impressionist streak, I think that I want to
show that every element in a canvas lives and adapts to the
other. In a scene of Pushkar, you will find many symbols and at
least five people. Yes, I blend the real and the imaginary. I
like to create a romantic tableau in which you search for the
figures. It must grow on you.
Let’s talk about travels in
the new millennium. Turkey, China, a few more interiors of
France. How has it changed the way of seeing? Do you like
actually waiting for the ‘decisive moment’? How important is
impulse in your works?
Tribute to Bengal. Oil on canvas, 2003
Impulse is always there, it is
inherent, whatever I paint I try to take out that inner essence
and that is what I try to depict on my paper and canvasses.
After all, I am deep down a spiritual person. It is the spirit
that drives me and my work. In life while we try to capture what
we see, we also keep changing because our way of seeing changes.
The way I looked at a landscape 20 years ago is not what I see
now. I see less and exact now, there is a foundation of
minimalist moods that has entered that approach, it dictates
what I translate onto the canvas or the paper. So if you see the
Chinese watercolour you will see the hint of the monumentality
of the search but you will also see the absolute minimalism
which is certainly an oriental feature. It has today become a
language in the world.
Let’s talk also about the
Mahayana that you did recently. In terms of figurative language
this is novel. It is intuitively differential because Paresh
Maity rarely does iconic symbols.
It was from my childhood, maybe
25 years back, when I travelled to Orissa, and saw the
Udayagiri, Khandagiri caves that the wall paintings and cave
paintings remained in my mind. Recently when I travelled to
China, I saw that artists and people were all thinking and
painting the Buddha. The urge has been there for more than a
decade and one evening it just happened. I was also amazed at
the element of spiritual expression that I had given it. The
painting took only a few hours, I painted fast and furiously,
but the image in my mind took 25 years to be realised.
How much did you sell your
first work for and to whom?
My first work was sold for Rs
75 to Gallery Chemould at Kolkata. I sold three watercolours and
was very happy with the Rs 225 that I got when I was only 18
years old. Yes , the memory is precious because in many ways it
was a humble beginning.
* * *
As an artist Paresh has
continued to work according to his own precept, finding his own
signature through the experiences of his own travels,
symbolizing at regular or irregular intervals what he has wanted
to capture, as well as translate emotive evocations close to his
heart. Paresh creates for the inner resonance that comes with
the joy of creation. It isn’t the process that is so
demanding, it is the end result. The compositional qualities of
colour and contour are so intrinsically woven together that they
bring about an iconic rendition of the expressionist refrain.
For an artist who spent time
doing work on watercolour paper and other textures of paper, the
idea of working on canvas was enticing, particularly because it
stood for another perspective as well as a shift in the
proportion of the way of seeing. After doing landscapes all his
life, filled with allegorical and metaphorical references, the
act of tackling a canvas meant bringing to it a composition that
had both depth and insight. A canvas for Paresh would not be a
study of a single portrait, it had to be an amalgam of a moment
The year 1983, and his first
canvas was a study in still life. Grapes, a vase and an
Indianesque brass object completed the academic tone of a study
that mirrored the realist idiom of the old masters. The second
canvas was a portrait of a Van Goghian rustic; the loneliness on
the expressive face was a symbolic suggestion of the winged
vapour of the desire for freedom that seduces. The peasant face
was almost like a locked-up bird, imitating an enigmatic melodic
essence of melancholia.
Excerpted from Life and
Works of Paresh Maity — 25 years. By Uma Nair and Sushma
Bahl. Published by Art Musings, Mumbai; CIMA Gallery, Kolkata;
Gallery Ganesha, New Delhi and Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore. Pages
346. Rs 10,000.
Mystery. Water on paper, 1999
of love and its sexual representation in Indian art goes
back to pre-historic times. Its origin can be traced to
archaeological material of the Indus civilisation
replete with phallic stones and terracotta Mother
Goddess figures. The amorous couples in somewhat
explicit poses and other erotic motifs, seen on various
historic structures and in temple sculptures of the
early period at Ajanta & Ellora, Konark, Sanchi and
all over the country, seem to focus on the aesthetic
elements of erotic art that enhances the viewers’
experience of sensuality as a divine act and emotion,
distinguishing it from the western concept of
pornography. Meeting and mating of male and female that
generates fertility and life for the natural forces to
continue and flourish has been revered as a creative
force in Indian religion, Vedic texts, classical
literature, societal practices, folklore, art and
culture since the Ancient era.
Maity is a natural artist and designer, a compulsive
traveller, a keen photographer, and above all a
perfectionist. Bhadraloki and a romantic at heart, he
likes all things beautiful. There is an enormous
resource bank of the poetic and sensuous, which he
brings to play in all his creations giving them the
erotic under and overtones. The aesthetics of his
creations seem to stem from his personal and contextual
perspective, sensitivity and encounters with the
classical and the folk, combined with his contemporary
concerns for a new look and a global worldview. Love and
love-making in his view is a basic human instinct.
"The paintings you see here are spontaneous. I have
never had to make a special effort to give them an
erotic feel or look," he says. The result is a
natural beauty, sublimity and an aesthetic appeal which
permeates his work.
Maity’s paintings are also replete with other
signifiers of eroticism such as lovebirds, flowers and
the moon, tuning into parts of a female body, endowed
with a charming fusion of the sensuous with aesthetic,
classical with folk, realistic with make-belief,
simplicity with grandeur, beauty with beast and slender
but fulsome. Of special mention in this context are his
early works including the nude studies and couples that
he made as an art student in Kolkata. His subsequent
drawings with a clear erotic nuance were inspired by his
visit to Khajuraho. Some of his erotic drawings and
paintings, though very different in their atmospherics,
remind one of the works of both Picasso and Souza in
terms of their lines and images. The difference is in
the omission of brutality in his work which is instead
replete with elegance and grace. The love-making and
sexuality in his art is more poetic and sublime — note
the man and woman enjoined together in a seductive pose
in ‘Tatoo’. In some of his other paintings his women
seem to come closer to the female protagonist Yayati in
— Sushma Bahl