METRO PLUS

Colours of life

CELEBRATION Travel forms an important element in his works   | Photo Credit: PHOTOS (COVER AND CENTRESPREAD) SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAK

RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN

He has come a long way from a remote village in West Bengal to being one of Delhi's most sought after artists. Paresh Maity talks to RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN about his journey

Carrying a pile of drawing sheets in his hands and hoisting a bag full of colours and brushes on his shoulders, every day, at 6 a.m., he would be seen rushing to his destination — the Government College of Art — four hours from his nondescript village in Tamluk, West Bengal. He would either walk, board a bus, take a lift from a passing truck or simply run. “Not even a single day was I late or did I miss college,” says the man with a glint of pride in his eyes. To manage the feat, he got up at 5 a.m., bathed in a nearby pokhar even in chilly weather and rushed. “At times I would sleep in the train, or the TT wouldn't allow me in. Every day's journey was like a drama, a piece of theatre,” he recalls.

After college, the four-hour ordeal would be repeated to reach home. Many-a-time, if he missed the last bus, he would have to pass through a village graveyard, enveloped in darkness. “Even at 19, it would send shivers down my spine. West Bengal is anyway infamous for black magic and ghost-related stories,” the artist recalls rather nervously.

Today this man, Paresh Maity, is one of the most sought after artists selling his works at enviable prices. But back when he was pursuing his graduation in Fine Arts, he would trudge around Calcutta art galleries with his watercolour land and seascapes in the hope of getting exhibition space. He recalls, “They would say, ‘we have no space, or ‘leave a few here and we will contact you'.”

Maity has indeed come a long way. So much so that at 46, he has done 54 solo shows across the globe and has been documented for a second time in a coffee table book, “The world on a canvas”, published by Delhi's Art Alive Gallery, with a foreword by none other than Pandit Ravi Shankar, photographed by Nemai Ghosh, and written by actor and aesthete Sharmila Tagore. And there is more. This Saturday evening will mark the opening of Maity's solo show encompassing his 30 years of work — in oil, watercolour on paper, sculpture and two video films.

Maity now lives in his own house at Delhi's C.R Park with his wife, another famous artist Jayshree Burman. He became a resident of Delhi more than 20 years ago. “Delhi,” he says fondly, “has given me a firm footing. It recognised my ability and encouraged me against all odds.”

Journey to Delhi

Maity came to Delhi by accident. He recalls nostalgically, “Even as a student of Art College, I had started making illustrations, book covers, etc. for newspapers and magazines. I even made a cover for The Illustrated Weekly of India. Seeing my work, the Dean of Hyderabad University called me to do my post graduation there, after which he would absorb me as a lecturer. So, I went to Hyderabad. Then once, a gallerist called Dolly from Delhi's prestigious Village Gallery — which would do shows of only people like Satyajit Ray and Paritosh Sen — called me to bring my works to do a show. I was thrilled. But being laidback, I went late and missed meeting her. She had already left for Mumbai. So, I exhibited my works at a competition at AIFACS and Galleri Ganesha. While I got the first prize at AIFACS, at Ganesha all my works were sold! I understood Delhi had to be my means of bread and butter. So, I cancelled my admission in Hyderabad and enrolled at Delhi College of Art. That was in 1990. After that, I never looked back.”

Maity is a photographer too. “I have been shooting for almost 30 years. My first camera, a second-hand, cost me Rs.200.” Today, he owns a Victor Hasselblad camera. Maity sold his first painting for Rs.75 in Kolkata. Today he makes mammoth works.

Maity says, “Big work is a challenge. You get lost in front of the canvas; you don't know where to begin from. But that's where the fun lies.”

He is often accused of being repetitive and doing too many shows. He smiles, “Those who don't follow my work would say I am repetitive. Travel is a part of me and each travel has changed my work. And as far as too many shows are concerned, they should know that Picasso produced the largest number of works abroad, and in India it is M.F. Husain. Those who keep on working will definitely have more shows. During my struggle days, I used to get only five hours of sleep. It has become a habit now. I start working at sunrise and stop at sunset every day. I paint under direct sunlight. I don't stop in between, don't allow anyone in, don't operate a computer and switch off my mobile. I hate machines.”

Impressed with Maity's colourful works, Souza made his portrait and gifted it to him. The legendary Husain told him, ‘We are artist by meditation, not by fashion'.





WORLD ON CANVAS

Paresh Maity's latest show ‘World on Canvas' opens at Lalit Kala Akademi today and will be on till March 27. Mammoth works of oil on canvas and eight-and-half foot watercolour on paper draw from his travels to Venice, Moscow, Paris, Kolkata, Agra, etc. Bronze sculptures show a chain of ants made with parts of an Enfield motorbike. Each ant is five feet long, weighing 1000 kgs each. It took three years to complete.

Two films of 18 minutes each, “Monsoons in India — Kolkata to Kozhikode” and “Desert Melody” on Rajasthan, showing day, twilight and night shot in 70 mm with a Victor Hasselblad camera will be part of the show. “The camera weighs 40 kgs and five people carry its different parts,” says Maity.

The book “World on Canvas” in which Satyajit Ray's close companion Nemai Ghosh has photographed Maity at work in black and white will be released at the show. “He has been shooting me for eight years,” says Maity.