Art

The man from Madhubani

Char Women, mixed media on paper

Char Women, mixed media on paper   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

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Artist Neelkant Choudhary talks to us about how he fuses the folk art style with subject matter that resonates with people today

As a child, he took to painting traditional art on the wall as early as 13. Growing up in Madhubani, Bihar, Neelkant Choudhary was surrounded by local paintings, and it was natural for him to imitate the fine lines and Madhuban’s leeway for spontaneity. Soon though, people around began to request him to paint the walls of their houses.

In the 1960s though, it was difficult to explain what being an artist meant, and Choudhary’s parents weren’t on board. “My cousin, in Baroda, wanted me to come over and study at the art college but my father wouldn’t allow it,” says Choudhary, whose exhibition that opens in the city today is titled Feminine Divine, and is a celebration of female energy.

Choudhary, who studied Political Science and History in a college in Chandigarh, had better luck late in life though, when he was 34. He came into contact with the late Chandrakala Devi, a senior Madhubani painter. “In 1996, she came to my father, a doctor, for treatment. She saw my paintings and goaded me on.” She also advised him to stick to Madhubani, as it was a part of his heritage.

Artist Neelkant Choudhary from Baroda

“My work is a merger of the traditional and the modern. Therefore, my motifs derive as much from the streets of India to a visit to Golconda, from the temples of Nepal to Egyptian figures. If Madhubani has to survive, it has to adapt to the times without necessarily deserting its traditional core,” he says.

What he lacks in not enrolling in an art school, he makes up with his study in libraries, taking down notes and understanding complex art forms of other nations. This also feeds into his day-job, as an art teacher at Delhi Public School, Vadodra.

In this solo exhibition in Delhi, he shows us the different avatars of women in daily life, as they go about their chores. “My specialisation is mythology,” but here, he’s foregone the pantheon of goddesses you expect. “We need to do something different,” he says. “If you see my earlier paintings in 1996 and now, there have been changes in my work. I love to experiment; otherwise you would get bored.”

He also explores other art forms from around the world. “In my work Like the Rivers I have used Japanese patterns. Within our country there is incredible diversity. In Golkonda, I took inspiration from a young girl from South India who had come with a friend to get captured on lens.

He still remembers the first painting he sold. “After Chandrakala Devi, Rajiv Sethi was the first person to have encouraged me. Chandrakala Devi was close to Sethiji. When he saw my paintings at his studio at Shankar Market, he was able to decipher the difference in my work from regular traditional paintings. In fact, he was my first buyer.”

Gallerie Ganesha, E-557, Greater Kailsah-II, until December 3, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:06:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/the-man-from-madhubani/article29942542.ece

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