“I don’t believe in the school of thought that says that art cannot be taught,” says third generation modernist Manu Parekh, one of the most well known painters in the contemporary Indian art scene.
In town for the annual Chandigarh Art and Heritage Festival, both Manu, 75, and his wife Madhavi, 72, are firm believers in the fact that while some people might have a natural flair for art, it is still a very demanding and technical field to learn.
“People say my wife is self-taught, that is wrong, I taught her everything about painting from scratch,” explains Manu, whilst his wife adds, “I asked Manu to teach me as I wanted to learn how to paint and it was very difficult and demanding.” Having exhibited their paintings across the world, Madhavi’s thoughts and heart are still steeped in her native village in Gujarat.
“I was so happy when I arrived in Chandigarh; all this greenery reminds me of home,” she smiles.
While they currently reside in Delhi, before this, they spent the 70s in Kolkata, the city they credit for their artistic inspiration. “When we shifted to Delhi, I was lost for two to three years; I found no inspiration initially,” says Manu, whose creative block finally shattered in the holy city of Varanasi.
“Benares is an organic theatre for me as it is full of human activity,” says Manu, further adding, “Being there taught me there are two kinds of light; man-made temple lights reflected in the water and the light created by God present in nature.” For Manu, his most thought-provoking experiences have always come from the work the couple has done with rural artisans in villages. He tells us that the extraordinary strength he saw in village women, he has not seen anywhere else and there is no better example than that of Ganga Devi from Mithila village in Bihar.
Gangadevi is largely responsible for placing the ancient art of Madhubani, practiced for centuries by the women of her village, in the artistic map of the world. “But did you know she was thrown out by her husband because she could not bear him any children?” asks Manu.
Both husband and wife also say that being an artist when they were young was impossible. “There was just no scope whatsoever; you had to take another run-of-the-mill job because being an artist wouldn’t pay your bills,” he remnisces, adding, “The youth of today has far more avenues open for them in the world of art now, but if you want to continue in this line you can never have any doubts.”