Magazine

Different strokes

The artist, Paresh Maity.

The artist, Paresh Maity.  

I step into the green lawns of the Birla Academy in Southern Avenue on a cool December afternoon but the huge Buddha in the backdrop doesn’t overwhelm me as usual. Instead I find a bespectacled man in an eye-catching red and black cape waving at me and a huge installation with scurrying ants all over it staring at me.

I’ve come prepared with a gentler image of water colour boats, bovine animals and rural scenes in my mind’s eye. I’m in for a different journey altogether it seems.

‘Every art is different’ is the defining statement Paresh Maity makes of his work of 40-odd years and his prediction of what he will construct in the future.

He acknowledges that the bronze ‘Bull and the Ant’ could have easily been mistaken for the work of two different artists. One traditional and strong on technique, and the other inspired by sights and sounds of ants scurrying in the rain, motorbikes whizzing past, and life all around him.

Maity’s journey from Tamluk to Kolkata to Delhi was a hugely transformational one. Asia’s premier art institution, Kolkata’s The Government College of Art, founded in 1854 by the British, gave him a strong foundation in the grammar and technique of art that shaped him into the master craftsman he is today. Delhi opened him up to the endless possibilities in his chosen field; as he says “what you learn you break”. So the world began to see the Maity of the larger-than-life installations; life-size water colours, all of which are showcased in ‘The Sounds of Silence’ exhibition now on in Kolkata. The change was a spontaneous and natural transition, a slow evolution rather than a conscious decision.

Maity’s creative process leans towards aesthetics, harmony, ceremony, relationships, love rather than socio-political change, which he acknowledges is a very important influence for many artists. His early nurturing in rural Bengal strongly influenced his imagination towards nature and the more harmonious music of life: ‘A Mystic Abode’, an installation solely of brass bells, recreating spiritual bliss, joy and harmony easily bears this out. While he agrees that government support and funding are crucial, he thinks the corporate world has stepped in in a major way to fill the vacuum left by erstwhile royal patronage. India is fast catching on to this trend set by more advanced economies, and British Petroleum, Deustche Bank, and Pepsico, among others, are major patrons of the arts in international destinations. This is a hugely positive trend and private galleries, when private collections are opened to the public, are also fast catching on. Kiron Nadar has taken the first step towards this.

Does this mean artists are influenced by the need to produce more atrium-filling, corporate pieces today? Maity does not agree, and he feels that while the support is important artists respond to the creative impulse within rather than the tastes of the sponsor.

Government support has also begun, and it would be nice if they could come out with more public installations, well-run galleries, and state-of-the-art infrastructure and spaces for the display of art works. Maity goes on to say that maybe a national endowment for the arts with both public and private support could be the way forward; the land of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa with 5,000 years of art history needs to be showcased and taken forward.

Contemporary art is making huge strides in India. All the major schools of art are responding well to the new trends. Indian art is doing very well globally. While even 20 years ago, it did not make any mark on the international scene, Indian art is today well represented in all major exhibitions across the world.

For Maity, the journey from Tamluk in Midnapore to the Marina Bay Sands Exhibition to Tate Britain, to shows in New York, Tokyo and Istanbul with the Padma Shri under his belt, the trajectory has been long, full of hard work and very enriching. He calls the world his home with his base in Delhi; he has studios in several Indian cities with a dedicated team devoted to working with him for the last 25-odd years.

But he connects easily with the awestruck fans in his erstwhile home city, posing for photographs with childlike pleasure in front of his installations, and takes quiet pride in how far his journey has brought him from his early days as a struggling art student. And he is well cognisant of the fact that today the language of art is global. He appreciates that visual art is also going the way of other art forms like dance and music where fusion and contemporary thought processes are influencing traditional techniques; 20 years ago, there were no installations, digitisations, the use of sound and light in visual art. Now artists give way to their impulses and teachers and gurus are liberal, encouraging experimentation to keep pace with the times.

While Maity appears alongside Picasso, Dali and Anish Kapoor on international platforms, he has a rooted connection to his origins and projects the rich ethos of India through his work. That is his raison d’etre.

Kolkata-based Sunita Chowdhurie interprets and analyses performing and visual arts. Maity is showing at CIMA Gallery till 16 January.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2020 9:05:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/Different-strokes/article13990384.ece

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