The 70-year-old modernist artist has a career in art spanning over five decades. He has been awarded the Padmashree Award. Having combined painting explorations with theatre acting and set designing, Parekh studied art at the J J School of Art and has lived in Calcutta and New Delhi. The show, titled, The Pursuit of Intensity, curated by Ranjit Hoskote
showcases 18 paintings from 2004 to 2009.
What inspired these two series — Chant and Flowers from Heaven?
I have been visiting Benaras for the last 25 years. While living there, I realised that for a common man, faith is important to combat fear. I got interested in the graffiti around the religious places and travelled to many more like Vatican City, Hagia Sophia and Jeruselem. The kind of abstraction, graffiti and the colours were all in my mind.
From different subjects to a variety of mediums, as an artist, how important is it to you to bring in change in your work?
Medium is very important to me to excite myself and explore more. My mind may remain stuck to something but changing the language is very important for me.
What is the energy that transforms into your paintings?
My surroundings give me the energy. My curiosity to know things and communicate with people. Also, I am interested in Thangka and Nathadwara paintings. The meditative aspect and the aspect of repetitiveness is a positive factor for my painting. It takes months and years.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working more on these two series. I do a particular thing till I feel I’ve mastered the technique and then I prefer to explore more. Otherwise I fear that my work will become repetitive. Also, when one takes up a new medium or language, the uncertainty is important for any creative person. I have some ideas for sculptures, which I want to work on in the near future.
Curator Ranjit Hoskote shares his thoughts
Could you elaborate on the title, The Pursuit of Intensity?
The reason I have titled this exhibition, The Pursuit of Intensity, is because I believe that the quest for more is deeply felt and transformative. This has been central to Manu’s artistic progression from the beginning of his career in 1962. Over the years, that flow of energy, which is alternatively, expressive and anarchic, controlled and regular, has come to be his main and consistent theme — as I read his work.
In his work over the last five years, Manu has been working with the repetition of the chant as a pictorial device, while refining the hybrids of flower, organ and object that he has painted before, setting them in quite novel relationships of detail to scale.
How would you relate Parekh’s current body of work with his earlier work?
These 18 splendidly scaled and remarkably detailed paintings mark an unprecedented formal departure from much of Parekh’s earlier work. Their concerns and techniques encode the learning, experimentation and dialogues of a lifetime, but the images themselves are charged with a vigorous desire for transformation and renewal.
These works resonate forcefully, in my view, with the Sanskrit term spandana: the throbbing of the universe, the seed-burst that marks the birth of matter and time, which Parekh celebrates here as the birth of colour and event.
How would you place Manu Parekh’s work in the Indian art scene?
As I interpret his career, Manu has always had two major commitments — the first, to empathise with the predicament of human beings in all their anguish and vulnerability; and second, to engage with the sacred in all its complexity, as totally distinct from organised religion and politicised religiosity.