French artiste Christiane Durand's latest collection Men and Gods is inspired by Chola architecture

Christiane Durand is not only an accomplished artist but also an authority on art history and Egyptian, Roman and Greek mythology. “I started painting when I was 14. I used to dabble in oils on canvas and abstracts formed my favourite themes. But slowly, I began to change my style of working,” says Christaine. From 1983, she took up figurative work in which she questioned man and his relation to culture and the cosmos.

She studied Fine Arts and Visual Arts in Toulouse and Paris. As a student in Paris, she “came to know about the world” as she interacted from students from all over the world, from Turkey to India, there. She teaches visual arts at the junior and university levels.

“Men and Gods” has been inspired by her travels to the Chola territory in South India where she visited temples and sanctuaries. “Chola architecture is so beautiful. The finely chiselled figures of men and women look very sensual.” She was invited by Cholamandal Centre for Contemporary Art, Chennai, to exhibit her collection of paintings, “Men and Gods”. The exhibition is presently on display in Bangalore.

It's just not old temples that Christiane considers beautiful but new temples too. “I like the colours with which the new temples have been painted. The greens, blues and yellows are so lovely.” Egyptian, German and Russian art are among her favourites.

Her myriad experiences gathered from extensive travels all over the world finds expression in her unique paintings. Her long, artistic fingers points to the cover of the colourful catalogue of “Men and Gods”. It is a portrait of a beautiful lady in red and the background is a lush forest painted in contrasting shades of light and dark greens. The painting intrigues. “The lady in red is my daughter when she was pregnant. The forest is inspired by my travels to a forested area in Tamil Nadu,” says Christiane. She then points to some other elements in the image — baby boys and girls held within flowers and a number of red strings tied on the barks of the trees. Both these images, interestingly, symbolise the essence of French and Indian culture. Christiane explains: “When I was in Tamil Nadu, I saw women tie red-coloured strings onto the barks of trees to pray for babies. In Toulouse, where I grew up, baby girls are associated with flowers and baby boys with cabbage leaves.”

She flips through some of her other paintings to reveal the portraits she has painted of friends and people she admires.

Some of the portraits are of Indian painters based in Paris, Vishwanthan and Madhu Basu to name a few. Almost all the paintings have images of Hindu gods and goddesses. Christiane's knowledge on Vishnu's avatars is incredible considering her short visit to India. “When I went to Chennai, I saw an exhibition of Vishnu's avatars which got me interested in knowing more about Indian mythology.”

Christiane is an avid reader. “I have learned Latin and Greek. I read many art newspapers. I have read Paul Auster and Lanza del Vasto. It takes me one hour to travel everyday from my house to my studio. During that time, I read the newspapers, which are distributed for free in the subways of France, and books.

If I find the book interesting, I finish reading it once I reach my studio.” She paints best in a large, empty spaces when she is alone. “I like to move when I paint,” she says with a smile.

She now works with models because she “wants to break free from regular forms.” Acrylic is her preferred medium in painting for it dries quickly and you can touch and hold a painting in acrylic. “I can add beautiful blacks in deep and light shades — black with grey and black with blue,” she says.

Christiane believes that art plays a very important role in developing a nation and its culture. “Identity is constructed with the imagination of people and culture,” she concludes.

“Men and Gods” is on display at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore, Millers Tank Bund Road, Vasanth Nagar today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 09176975606. Visit: www. christiane-durand.fr

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