Man on the move

Man on the move

Art beat

Man on the move

Fifty solo shows is a milestone for any artist to look back on with a sense of achievement. Paresh Maity, who hosted his first solo in 1989 under the informed patronage of Lady Ranu Mukherjee, when he was still a student, has come a long way since then. But the early promise held. And how. The man who sold a watercolour to the British Museum, London when he was just 24, has dealt with authority, both the literal and the abstract. Although he was interested in working with clay right from his childhood and has done some commendable sculptures, he is watched closely for his paintings.

Paresh Maity is a traveller-painter. He is an intrepid mover and is one of India’s most celebrated shakers in the world of art. He carries his colours, paints and brushes on his travels because he travels to paint, not to rest or holiday. He doesn’t tire of telling you, in a most engaging style, of his travels, and is just as fond of reminiscing about the experience as he is of the paintings.

It is that joy that reflects on his canvas. His child-like wonder at visiting a new place is reflected in his work. For instance, after a trip to Rajasthan in 1990, the human figure, draped in robust colours of the desert and strong in its lines, was noticeable. The result was startlingly detailed faces, rustic, rugged, real. As he told me once, he would visit Rajasthan virtually every month. Travelling the length and breadth of India, he has been fascinated by the people and colours of Rajasthan, and recently, of Kerala. The resultant oils and watercolours have made him the veritable ambassador of each land he travels to. Like the personality of the artist, his work often comes alive with the most vibrant of colours — cobalt, red and yellow.

His “heart and soul” lies in watercolours, possibly the most challenging and unforgiving vehicle, leaving little room for revision. But the intrepid Maity thinks and works big, his watercolours often twenty times the usual size. Little wonder then that he won an award from the Royal Watercolour Society, London in 2002.

Maity, who was born in Tamluk, by the Rupnarayan River in West Bengal in 1965, often goes back to the river craft of his childhood and to water. He ran away from home when he was very young but returned to Kolkata for the Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata and went on to earn his Master’s Degree from the College of Art, Delhi.

In Kolkata, he studied the British academic style of painting. Somewhere along the line, he learnt that watercolours are the ultimate in mastery for an artist. “In watercolour, you either succeed or fail; there’s nothing in-between. That was a challenge to me,” he says.
Not complacent with his acclaimed mastery over watercolours, he has challenged his limits in art and skill, stretching the size of his watercolours. As he told me, perhaps the largest watercolour art work in India is by him, an eight feet by four feet, entitled Desert Storm.

But he is not just a chronicler of pretty images. The imagery can be abstract. It is certainly not photographic although Maity is a keen photographer. Each creation is his interpretation, the result of internalising what he has seen and enjoyed.

Maity, an articulate man, is a joy to interact with since he is passionate and eloquent about his art. As he says, “Even when I sleep, I dream painting.” He goes beyond the nitty-gritties of metaphor and motif, imagery and inspiration and will happily discuss the material he uses, like Daler-Rowney Artists’ Colours, particularly the cadmium colour in oils and watercolours, for their depth and richness of colour. His favourite brushes for oils are Bristlewhite flats which, he says, are very smooth and give him the option of both thick and thin lines from the same brush.

Awards and accolades, both national and international, are par for the course for Maity.

In 1982, he won a prize from ISKCON. In 1983, he was awarded a gold medal by USSR.

In 1987, it was the Jamini Ray Birth Centenary Celebration Award. The next year was significant with the Governor’s Gold Medal from the Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta and the Pt Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Celebration Award. In 1989, he was awarded the National Scholarship Award from the Government of India and, several awards later, in 1993 it was time for the British Council Visitorship. Time and again, the world has stood back and applauded this artist for his work.

Ironically, the man on the move has sometimes been labelled predictable, but if you watch his canvasses closely, you notice how he deals with a new element even when the theme is similar. If his work reminds you of Picasso, he is happy to pay his regards to the master Cubist although he has devised his very own oeuvre, whether it be in abstractions or in distinct forms or landscapes.

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