Artists tend to attract other artists. Imagine having two equally powerful creative forces living under the same roof. Get to know Jayasri Burman and Paresh Maity in part one of the HT Brunch four-part series on artist power couples.
Creativity takes courage, said Henri Matisse, the famous French painter, because it amounts to an exposure of your innermost thoughts and desires.
So imagine having two equally powerful creative forces living under the same roof. You’d need courage squared!
Paresh Maity was awarded the Padma Shri last year for his contribution to Indian art and he’s experimented with all sorts of media – watercolours, acrylic on canvas, photography and sculptures. He’s hard to miss at an art event: dressed in a coat with embroidered palettes, paintbrushes, birds and what not. Or sometimes perhaps a stole and a pendant.
Maity’s art is almost everywhere: in posh homes, once on the menu cards for Masala Art (Taj Palace, New Delhi), and now on an almost 850 foot-long mural at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, possibly the biggest mural in the world.
Home studio: Both Paresh and Jayasri are passionate about decorating their living spaces.
Jayasri Burman is an enigma: a homemaker on the side and a brilliant thematic artist by profession. Using bright watercolours as a base and pen on the surface, she makes patterns to create the female figure in all its glory, representing goddesses in various forms, strong in colour and content.
Her works attract collectors and she is known in art circles as a brilliant host and generally happy soul. In 2007, her paintings appeared as a series on stamps to commemorate International Women’s Day.
When she’s not travelling, you’ll find Jayasri at her studio in her home in the heart of Delhi. With paintbrushes holding her hair in place, pen in hand, she draws, intricately and carefully, on a painted surface, sewing together disconnected portions of her incomplete works. "I have never spent a day away from work, even if it’s only doodling in a sketchbook on the go," she says. "Creativity really never stops."
The works of cupid
They’ve got all the makings of a star couple – love for their canvases, quirkiness in everything they do, and a value to their signatures. It’s easy to spot Paresh in a crowd. At home, however, he’s the spectator, and Jayasri’s the one who steers him through.
They met as young artists at exhibitions and through common friends. "Paresh has always been a charmer," says Jayasri. "When he walked into my life, he brought with him a burst of happiness. And when my father first met him, he was mesmerised, praising his work so much that I used to get jealous."
Paresh, on the other hand has little to say of their first few encounters.
There’s a power in balance, or as Jayasri calls it "shakti", that needs to exist to maintain harmony in the relationship. In this case, their love is based on similarities rather than differences. They love the same food, the same colour and share ideologies, but do keep a safe distance from each other’s work. Paresh believes that the key to sharing a life with another artist comes from mutual respect for individuality and curiosity about each other’s outlook.
Holding on to traditions
As you stroll through their spacious house with its high ceilings, airy staircase and large bay windows, you feel the strong Bengali traditions that have followed them all the way to New Delhi. Large works by Paresh take centrestage, whereas Jayasri’s sculptures take up the space off the walls. Together, they complement each other and create a harmony that’s hard to miss.
Jayasri leads me to the puja room that she has carefully decorated; one of her paintings of a goddess provides a perfect backdrop for the room. The couple’s passion for decorating their home goes back to the days when they lived more modestly. “Even when we didn’t have much, we used to be very excited about getting even a small new showpiece,” says Paresh.
Born in a small town called Tamluk (90 km south of Kolkata), Paresh was the typical restless student. When other children went for tuitions, he’d concentrate on making Durga idols, doodling, or just whiling his time away. When he was 10, he ran away from home. But education always chased him, and ultimately landed him with almost nine years of formal schooling in painting.
A master in huge watercolour works, he shifted to Delhi to make it his home. “I was in Hyderabad when I heard about opportunities in Delhi and it gave me motivation to roll almost 25 large watercolour works and travel with them for two days, leaving everything else behind,” he says.
Jayasri comes from a family that has strong relations with art though she was more inclined towards writing and reciting poetry. But she was destined to be an artist, equally strong with her detailed canvases and sculptures.
“Anything can betray you, except skills that you take on with passion, working all day and night,” she says. “Even in the days when we didn’t have much, we never thought of where it would lead us. The enthusiasm to work is the same though everything around us has changed.”
When they met, they were beginners in the world of art. Through the years, they have seen their share of ups and downs, but have stuck together and continue to help each other – with minimal intervention. Now they’ve left visible impressions on Indian art.
What he loves about her
“That she keeps the family knit together.”
What she loves about him
“His immense positivity and how he’s happy all the time.”
Little pleasures that make them a team
They always make it a point to lunch together; the best-served dish will always be a special kind of home-cooked maach (fish).
From HT Brunch, March 1
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