With his solo show on till December 8 at Art Musings in Mumbai, Paresh Maity discusses his art and the sense of being rooted in their milieu.

This week, if you are in Mumbai, you may catch Paresh Maity — known for the most lyrical of watercolours, the boldest of colours, or the most towering of sculptures at different times in his life — experimenting with yet another, unexpected medium. Also a keen photographer, Maity has now turned his eye in another direction. At his big solo showing, what will be noteworthy — apart from all his other works — is “Drops of Heaven”, a 45-minute feature of the artist literally chasing the monsoon from Mumbai to Kerala. “It will have rickshaw pullers in water-logged Kolkata,” says Maity nostalgically, “that's the segment I shot in black and white.” Water has always played an important role in Maity's art and life. And here's yet another proof of it.

Water images

When I meet him earlier, at his Chittranjan Park home in Delhi, preparations for this mega show were afoot. Unfinished works demanded his attention. But it was also the perfect day to contemplate some of these. Dark clouds blocked out the sun, it was raining — not in torrential outpourings, but in a gentler, more lyrical fashion — the kind of rain, you imagine, may be a moment away in some of his earlier, romantic water colours. Maity, of course, loves water. “People in the north,” he says, “are scared of water. But, in Bengal, a pond is never far away and children swim before they can walk!”

In those earlier days, when he was still painting his seascapes, Maity would sit and stare at the sea — in Bengal or Venice or from an obscure beach in Orissa. Now, far from the water bodies, in Delhi, he simply walks in the rain, “through the markets,” past his fish-seller, dodging cycles and puddles”.

The pitter-patter beat a steady rhythm on the balcony outside, as we sat together — Maity and his wife Jayasri Burman — and examine among other things the two artists' intertwined lives. His journeys are often outward, hers are inward, even when they both look back to a culture of pujas and pandals and pageantry that accompanies life in India.

“I am not religious but love the pageantry of the Pujas,” Maity explains, “the hustle and bustle of pandals, the way the idol is being painted, interest me.” It was this fascination with form, he says, that turned him back to sculpture in the last couple of years and led to what we now recognise as his trademark style — mammoth figures (he mentions a 800 kg one done recently) primarily in bronze. This year, at the exhibition in Mumbai, there is a new material he has experimented with: junk.

Experimentation

How important is it for artists, rooted ones at that, to experiment? And does experimentation become an end in itself for some? Both Maity and Burman point out that it is natural for an artist to evolve. For art to be true, there has to be a continuous and discernable evolution. “It is not enough, to wake up one day and decide to create something new and startling.” Maity, now charged up, led me to see some of his latest works where he was experimenting with different textures, creating works out of clothes pasted on to canvas and worked on. “I first experimented with such textures in 1996 but did just a couple of works. This year, I am taking it up again and on a bigger scale.”

And there are more surprises in store. From a gigantic work stares out a “fashion designer” in the making; fashioned from Maity's own clothes stuck on to canvas! There is a set of six photographs, so unlike his previous work that you are taken aback. The works are huge (naturally); portraits of an old woman with cracked glasses, a young girl, and a happy, cherubic boy, his eyes glistening… a set of six. Maity is painting their “dreams” on to each. The young boy dreams of toys, the old woman... well, for that, check out the show.

As a young boy himself, Maity dreamt of travel. “I was fascinated with movement. While travelling in a bus or car, I would see the sky and trees moving. I still feel the same. Nothing has changed,” he says. Just his travelling companion. For Burman shares the same wanderlust. They travel together — “though we often do our own thing” — and sometimes the same things inspire them: Like the Shekhawati blue, incorporated so differently in their works. Or, more recently, in Norway. While Maity painted the fjords, the mauves and the whites found another expression in Burman's art. “Of course, we have to be careful too that we don't start emulating each other,” she says, “but we are lucky, what we do is so different.”