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Discovering new colours of India-US relations

When Bush lands here, he will find another American like him injecting colour into Indo-US relations through his paintings.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 13:41 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

When US President George W Bush lands here on Wednesday, he will find another American like him injecting colour into India-US relations through his paintings of Texan cowboys and Rajasthani peasants.

It might be just a serendipity that William Matthews' exhibition, "Cowboys and India: Images of the American West and Rajasthan", will be opened on the same evening as Bush, a native of Texas, gets his first glimpse of the country.

"It's a happy coincidence. But I like to think that things happen for reasons," Matthews told the agency in an interview. "We both are trying to build a bridge between our great countries. If we had planned it, it would probably never have happened," said Matthews, who is an acquaintance of the Bush family.

His exhibit will include 17 watercolours and 35 limited-edition Iris prints. He will also deliver a lecture on "The Art of Watercolours" here.

Matthews is no politician or diplomat but has an instinctive flair for bringing diverse peoples and cultures together through his realistic watercolour paintings that depict vast ranches of the American West and desolate landscapes in Europe and Asia.

Inspired by the heroism of the cowboys engaged in storytelling, shoeing horses or riding alone at sunset, he felt a sense of connection when he travelled to Rajasthan four years ago, his first trip to a country that transformed much of his youth.

Matthews, born in New York to a family of artists, grew up in San Francisco in the swinging 60s on Indian fabric, music, ayurvedic massage and herbal medicines.

His visit to Rajasthan opened a window to another world where there was "the colour, the pageant and a celebration of the everyday life. It provided a big piece of the puzzle I didn't know. I never saw more camels or mounds of red pepper chilli in my life," he recalled.

"Farmers in Rajasthan have the same sense of self-sufficiency about them. I admired their simplicity and certain ruggedness of character that lends them their unique charm.

"I like to paint cultures and people who live on the land, who live with the animals and who live by their wits. I love the primitive qualities about the American West," said the painter famed for his cowboy paintings.

To the 57-year-old artist, Bush and he have come to India, although separately, at an "interesting time" when the image of India has taken on new shades in the US.

"India is now recognised as a hub of software talent and a tech power finally emerging from its chrysalis. There is a new recognition of progress India and China have come to symbolize."

The world may be becoming flat, he says, quoting the best-selling author Thomas Friedman, but most Americans "don't necessarily have a tangible sense of India.

"Most Americans just know about Taj Mahal when India crops up in conversations.

"There is not a place in the world that is not closer to the US in terms of physical distance. This (India) is the farthest," says Matthews.

First Published: Feb 28, 2006 13:41 IST