Passage to his India

Paresh Maity’s two solo shows—around watercolours and sculptures—delve deep into his five-decade-long journey in the art world

author_img Rewati Rau Published :  28th November 2021 12:51 PM   |   Published :   |  28th November 2021 12:51 PM
Paresh Maity's artworks on display at CIMA art gallery, Kolkata

Paresh Maity's artworks on display at CIMA art gallery, Kolkata

Sometime in the 1980s, three art students from Calcutta alighted at the Shimla train station after taking the Kalka Mail. Just as they were managing their baggage, a passenger called out to them—‘aye coolie, hamara bhi bag utha lo (hey coolie, please lift our bags too)’. The friends exchanged a look and got onto the job. “We wanted to make some money to be able to stay for a few more days in Shimla,” says artist Paresh Maity, then one of the three boys.

Who would have known then that the amateur coolie would go on to become one of India’s best-known creative figures through sheer hard work—just the way he earned money at the railway station? It is this journey as an artist that Maity’s retrospective ‘Noise of Many Waters’ at CIMA art gallery and CAST, a collection of sculptures at Birla Academy of Art and Culture, in Kolkata attempts to portray. While CAST showcases the artist’s journey from clay idols to life-size sculptures, his retrospective is an ode to watercolours.

Maity, known for his powerful brushstrokes, started off by playing with clay. As a seven-year-old, he was fascinated by the workmanship of the Durga Puja idols and decided that he too would be an artist. For a boy belonging to a family, where his father was struggling to provide for his seven children, it wasn’t going to be an easy prospect. But Maity was unwavering. “My first passion was playing with clay and creating clay toys. I used to make these items when I was in primary school and started selling them in a village fair to support my family,” recalls the 56-year-old artist, sitting in his Delhi studio which he shares with his wife, artist Jayasri Burman.

He started saving money—through his earnings and also by winning art competitions in school. Armed with these savings, despite no one supporting his decision to become an artist, Maity enrolled himself at the prestigious Government College of Art, Kolkata, to study Bachelor of Fine Arts. But then being an artist wasn’t a simple stroke of the brush. “I used to travel for eight hours daily to go to college from my village since I didn’t have enough money to stay in Calcutta,” says the artist.

Rakhi Sarkar, the curator of his show at CIMA Art Gallery, says, “In his retrospective, he provides us with a gist of his life. From the rural terracotta, greens and blues of Bengal, Paresh journeyed to the neons of global glitz. No wonder, water becomes the central force and metaphor of that incredible journey. His land, river and cityscapes resonate with the spirit, taste and noise of that water which pervades his current collection; here it connects the cities and lands across which the magic of his brushes traverse.” The retrospective shows 125 of his paintings, landscapes from across the world.

CAST derives its name from one of his sculptures on display. “It’s an amalgamation of my first memory of creating tangible, multi-dimensional art. For a few years in my career, watercolours came first. But around 18 years back, one fine day, I started making sculptures again,” Maity says. There are nine huge sculptures on display. 

Maity’s journey from the picturesque village of Tamluk in West Bengal to a Padma Shri awardee has been enriched with a life lived out of suitcase. Most of his works are inspired by his journeys across India and abroad. However, Maity’s brush with landscapes started in school. He recalls an incident at Hamilton High School in Tamluk when an art teacher had asked students to copy a landscape from a book. “I loved it and did a copy. Years later, I saw the original of the same painting at the Tate Gallery in London. At that time I was referred to as Turner of India (JMW Turner was a British landscape painter of the 19th century). Incidentally, the painting was also by Turner.”

The piece de résistance at CAST at the Birla Academy lawns is a sculpture using 100 Royal Enfield motorbikes. Maity collected these bikes, dismantled them and with the junk material, he created a beehive, a huge 300 sq ft installation. There are more than 50 honeybees, crawling and flying, showing a sense of unity, harmony and aesthetics.

CAST, Birla Academy of Art and Culture Lawns, till December 16

Noise of Many Waters, CIMA Art Gallery, till December 11