Paresh Maity: A life in canvas

ranjita biswas | Updated on March 10, 2018

Paresh Maity: Reflection of Passion; Oil on Canvas; 2015

Warm hues: Paresh Maity is a master of oil on canvas

Paresh Maity: Wedding Bell; Oil on Canvas; 2013

Paresh Maity brings his procession of ants and thousands of bells to his largest exhibition in the country till date

What do you think of the age 40? Is it time to slow down or a time to start the next phase of life with renewed vigour? Renowned contemporary artist Paresh Maity belongs to the latter category. His works completed over the last 40 years - drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations - are on display at an exhibition, ‘Sounds of Silence’, in Kolkata. “This is the first time that I am holding an exhibition of this scale anywhere in India,” says the Padma Shri awardee. He directs his team to adjust the halogen light to illuminate the face and parts of the huge bull in ‘The Force,’ which immediately reminds one of Picasso’s signature works. Maity admits that the great artist as well as cubism have had a “huge influence” on him. With a smile he says, “And I love the bull. I am a Taurean, after all.”

I ask him about the title of the exhibition. “There is a silence in nature. You can feel it. An artist can perform a praan pratishtha — giving life through creative expressions.” He points to ‘Mystic Abode,’ a room-like structure made of hundreds of bells, which weighs more than 2,500kg. He introduces soft music through an audio system and the entire structure comes alive.

In ‘Procession’, the fuel tanks and headlights of motorbikes are assembled together to resemble ants crawling up a wall. The work forces a double take from the viewer, as it is striking both in conception and execution.

So, has the artist who initially started out with watercolours, mesmerised by works of British landscapist Turner, turned to installation art? “I do it all. Life is a journey. You learn something new every day and evolve. I follow this philosophy.”

Long journey

Now 50, Maity’s journey from a humble village in Tamluk, Medinipur district of West Bengal, to an artist in the international arena has been a long one. While his father wanted him to take up medicine or engineering, he preferred to mould clay models of gods and goddesses and sell them at the village market. The Rupnarayan river, which flowed near his village, ensured a ready supply of clay. While school didn’t interest him much, an enthusiastic teacher introduced him to art. He realised art was his calling and left home to become an artist.

While studying at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata, he couldn’t afford a hostel and would travel hours by train to attend class. His means were limited and he sustained himself on awards and scholarships.

But like many talented people, before and after him, he eventually found recognition. An opportunity to exhibit some of his watercolours in Delhi proved lucky. He got noticed and decided to settle down in the Capital; if, that is, ‘settling down’ is a term that can be applied to his restless soul. His artist-wife Jayasri Burman holds the anchor at home.

“For inspiration I return again and again to Kolkata and my village. This city is a paradise for artists. Even the crowded streets and squalor, can be inspiring for an artist, at least it is for me,” he says. Venice and France are the other places he loves to visit ‘just for painting’.

The textures of Kolkata and his village come through in his bright and vibrant colours on the canvas. He says, “Nature is abundant with colours; I just try to catch some of it. Nature is my inspiration, my muse. I also consider Indian folk art more contemporary than the contemporary art of today. It’s simple, unique and powerful.”

Over the years, Maity has been working on bigger and bigger canvases. His 800-ft mural, on view at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, is said to be one of the longest in the world. But Maity enjoys working on both large and small canvases and says that he uses the same style irrespective of scale. He is finicky about his materials and imports his paper from France and Italy.

Like a Renaissance man, he dabbles in photography and filmmaking, but gets little time to pursue them. He carries with him a sense of flamboyance and creativity. Don’t the strife and conflicts around affect him? “Of course, they do. But I look for joy in other spaces, I look for the positive in this world. Why should I repeat only the negative?” he asks.

( ‘Sounds of Silence’ runs at CIMA Gallery, Kolkata till January 16, 2016.)

Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist

Published on December 18, 2015

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