Malavika Sangghvi meets one of India’s leading artists, the affable and gifted Paresh Maity — and comes away bhery impressed!
"Bher should bhee meet Molobheeka?" When I hear those bhurds - sorry words - I know right away that my dear friend, the leading internationally acclaimed Bengali artist Poresh Moithy is in town and I am in for a visual and aural treat.
Maity is a man you can't help admiring. Not only is there the matter of his spontaneous warmth and simplicity, he is also, in spite of his enormous talent and success - completely bereft of ego and attitude. To spend time with him is to be drawn in to a world as charming and positive as his paintings.
"I paint happy positive, things, with striking primary colours, not morbid things - and I lobh bhot I do," he says in the earthy Bengali accent that makes him so lovable.
Maity is in town this week for his exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery, which though in his characteristic modest manner he says is not a retrospective ("it is too early for that") - is a stunning collection of his works spanning from 1981, when he was an award-winning school boy till the present day.
To say that Maity is undisputedly one of the most talented and serious artists in India today is an understatement.
Schooled for 10 years in the rigorous science and history of Fine Arts, first in Kolkata and then in Delhi, where he attained his master's degree, Maity is an ardent student of craft form and style. So varied is his work, straddling so many styles and materials, that he calls to mind that other multi-faceted, gifted 20th century master, Bhikasho - sorry - Picasso. Like the Spanish master, Maity too has demonstrated his mastery of the craft in styles as different as landscape, still life, figurative art, expressionism, impressionism and abstracts.
Indeed, Rakhee Sarkar, of Kolkata's CIMA art gallery, one of the most respected figures in the art worlds today has been known to remark that when one views Maity's oeuvre, there is more variety and dynamism in 10 years of his work than in the lifespan of most other artists.
This perhaps is because for Maity, the son of a government clerk born in a small village 100 kms from Kolkata, art was a passion, a struggle, a commitment.
"I used to travel nine hours a day to get to the art college from my village because I was too poor to live in Kolkata" he says candidly, "Only in my last year, could I afford to live as a paying guest with a glorious Parsi family in Bow Bazaar - and coincidentally I lived in the same room that the legendary Irani of the Statesman had occupied earlier."
This is one of the interesting things about Maity: though he hails from one of the simplest and humblest backgrounds, there is an innate and intrinsic sophistication about him - one that allows him to absorb, imbibe and reflect the best and brightest around him.
How else can you account for the fact that this simple village boy has travelled many times around the world, and painted in places as far-flung as Venice - sorry Bhenis, Cornwall, China, and the South of France?
How else to explain how he and his artist wife the talented Jayashree Burman are the toast of the art worlds in London, New York and Singapore - and that he is sought after and collected avidly by some of the world's most respected art connoisseurs?
Sophistication, good taste, grace and style are never the consequences of affluence, birth or position, which is this writer's long held belief and, Maity is the perfect demonstration of that.
There is art in everything he does, whether it is signing his name, choosing his stylish wardrobe, designing graphics for his book or the simple act of sending post cards from wherever he travels to a select group of friends, Maity is the consummate artist. "Art is happening all the time in my mind," he says simply, "like madness".
Indeed, speaking to Maity, one gets as close to understanding the creative process as possible, because without artifice, without pretence and employing the simplest of words he includes you in the journey.
"The training we get in the chemistry and science of art stays with us like our ancestors, like our mather, father mama, baba, eet is always dher" he says , explaining "bhut first you have to learn to walk, only then you can run".
Indeed, unlike most other artists, Maity has learnt the rules before he breaks them. "I've studied art thoroughly, methodically some times up to 14 hours a day," he says of his years of rigorous training. "At the back of my mind even though I paint spontaneously, the formulas of art are always dher."
Talking to Maity, one can see how seriously he takes his work.But his deep knowledge of the craft of pointing is only half of the Maity story: overriding it all is the song of his artistic emotion - and the wondrous universe that he has gifted art lovers:
Cloudy Calcutta streets, swollen rivers in Kerala, pastoral scenes in France, earthy peasants from Rajasthan, figurative renditions of the eternal dialogue between the sexes, erotic art, nudes water colours, oils, conte and charcoal drawings, the breadth of the artist's work seems unending, his skills limitless.
"I can play with any medium" he says, without affectation. "That is bhy my paintings are not bhoring or monotonous. If I take the colour yhellow - I can paint 10 types of yhellow colour."
But of course the gift of any great artist is to transcend the technique and arrive at the ethereal element in every great work of art and this Maity seems to do effortlessly. "When Bhikasho painted his last works, there was so much distortion, he painted like a keed, but you knew that his training was always there, his distortions were never wrong" he says adding "Von should bhi bhery clear, bhery alert bhat you can't deliberately distort, it should be spontaneous like you can't make an accident on purpose - though" he says enigmatically, "most masterpieces are accidents!"
And how, I ask Maity is the lay man to know which painting of an artists' is the masterpiece and which is not?
"It is a bhery bhery tough question you have asked me" replies Maity. "They have to leave with the painting it is like marriage, it has to appeal you; you have to wake up every morning and lhov the painting. You may not know why it is beautiful, so it is very difficult to tell people which painting to bhay."
This happens to be Maity's 45th solo exhibitions in his 40 years, and till date he says, he tries to keep away from the commerce and administrative side of it all. "I cannot worship Laxmi and Saraswati at the same time" he says with endearing innocence. "There are very good professional galleries to handle that aspect. I concentrate on my art. And I have never undertaken a commissioned work bhicause when I paint; from bher I start I don't know bher it is going,"
Maity paints all over the world, indeed, though he is a resident of Delhi, this lover of water, rivers and seas spends hardly two three months of the year in the capital at his studio, the rest of the time travelling around the globe like a nomad, with his paints, his canvasses, his materials, and above all his fine sophisticated eye, that sees all, experiences all, and then responds with some thing quite magical and unpredictable.
"Inside I am like the sea, like bhoter like the ocean" he says "I am calm, and there the creation happens. Like the sea's surface there is always movement, always bhaves, but inside I am bhery cool, bhery calm, I say to myself bhy to get involved in small small things, it is bhetter to spend that time with my art. And if people like my painting, if they bring some happiness to people, then I feel fulfilled. The rest of it, bher my name is going, who is buying my paintings and for how much - all this I never bother about."
Spoken like a true artist and a bhery bhery gifted one at that!