To Meenakshi and Sushil ‘art is for everybody’. They have travelled on their bike for a month from Pune to Chennai, creating wall paintings at homes and a school along the way. Akila Kannadasan catches up with the couple during their stopover in the city

The stars were out that night, and Meenakshi Jha and Jey Sushil were on a stroll after dinner. Meenakshi thought aloud: ‘Why don’t we just take off on a journey and paint whatever we want to?’ It was one of those things we say off-the-cuff when drugged by a dreamy mind. But a year later, the couple did just that: they took off on their bike from Pune to Chennai along the West Coast, and stopped by to create works of art along the way.

There they were, riding along the highway with a bagful of paint and brushes and a heart full of dreams. What will the journey give them? An experience of a lifetime, it turned out. Their idea was that they stop at the places of friends who invite them, and create wall paintings by involving everyone so that it “invoked the artist in them”.

For many, art is an abstract idea beyond their understanding. But anyone can draw. Anyone can think up an amazing idea for a painting. The Delhi-based couple wanted to show that “art is for everybody”. They painted on the walls of friends’ houses in Pune, Goa, Kundapur, and Chennai, apart from a school in Hosur.

Overwhelming adventure

In Chennai on the last leg of their Artologue, the artist couple recall their overwhelming adventure.

“In Goa, we got a call from someone who said they lived in a 200-year-old Portuguese house and that they had a nine-month-old baby,” says Meenakshi. “I thought, ‘Oh yes! We’re going’.” Their hosts, Ravi and Kasia, wanted a painting themed on Nature. And Meenakshi got to work.

She painted a bright orange-red sun behind a tree. Perhaps it was the vision of the sun they saw as they rode along the beach hours before. The image poured out through her brush. In the end, the tree turned out like a Wierzba — the tree from which Kasia’s family name Wierzbicka was derived. And Ravi, in Hindi, meant the sun. The painting took the form of their hosts — unconsciously.

In Hosur, they painted a stretch of wall in a school by involving over 100 children. “We asked each of them to create a stroke on the wall,” recalls Meenakshi. The strokes evolved into sea creatures — soon, the wall came alive with all kinds of fish. Computer fish, flying fish, dancing fish, a mermaid… The teachers joined them too. It was a beautiful moment of gay abandon brought about by colours.

This is exactly what the couple wanted — that art urge people to shed their inhibitions, pick up the brush and attempt a stroke or two. The 2,000-km bike journey had its “scary moments”, says Sushil. With a woman by his side, Sushil feared that the bike would give up on them. And it did. At one point, the block piston, a crucial component, stopped working. “We were riding at about 80km/hr till then. Once we got it fixed in Hosur, I decided to slow down and rode at 50 to 60 km/hr,” he says. “It was as though the bike told me to take things slowly,” he smiles.

The journey, and its sights and sounds influenced their art. “In Pune, a lady played Tamil music as we worked. We didn’t understand it, but it was beautiful. We just stopped everything we were doing, sat and enjoyed the music,” says Sushil. Even the food they were served by their hosts had a way of showing its effects on their art work. “If the food is good, so is the painting,” he smiles.

Unconditional love

Meenakshi and Sushil met some amazing people along the way — the surgeon who appreciated Meenakshi’s steady hand that held the brush, the family matriarch who wanted her to paint the goat that followed her around when she was young, hosts of unconditional love who gifted her bangles, a sari, a safety torch…“It will take some months for the experiences to sink in,” says Sushil. “But this is a lead up to something big. We know it.”

(The couple document their experiences in a bilingual blog http://artologue.wordpress.com/)

The Last Painting

Meenakshi and Sushil did the last painting of their Artologue at the residence of professor S.S. Tabraz at IIT — Madras. The theme: God resting after the process of creation.