Artist Paresh Maity’s latest multi-city exhibition of clay art encapsulates his career spanning three decades
Comprising 450 works, to be part of expansive exhibitions in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata over the next five months, it is said to be the largest solo show of any Indian artist ever
If Paresh Maity hadn’t already sealed his place among the leading Indian artists today, he is certain to accomplish the feat with his new show Infinite Light which is travelling the length and breadth of the country. Comprising 450 works, to be part of expansive exhibitions in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata over the next five months, it is said to be the largest solo show of any Indian artist ever.
The artist’s oeuvre has, for the longest time, been dominated by paintings. But his artistic journey actually began with an innocent curiosity for clay at the age of seven, a medium he returned to only recently and explored at full blast for works created for this show.
The artist’s ceramic vases in varied sizes are unmissable in their black and white glaze, in sharp contrast to his otherwise spectacularly rich and colourful palette, and boast the uncanny eye motif that breathes life into these inanimate objets d’art.
Complementing the vases is a collection of small-scale paintings, featuring the same eye motif, painted in a way that is reminiscent of Picasso’s cubist style with its bold, straight, edgy lines that render a fragmented effect on the canvas. “Eyes are the most expressive part of the human body, and Indians have beautiful eyes. They tell you everything,” Maity says, adding that he was inspired by the use of the motif in Kalighat paintings and the works of modernist Jamini Roy.
According to market firm Indian Art Investor’s report for 2020-22, Maity was among the top three contemporary Indian artists to have sold their works at auctions, with 42 of his works fetching a total of Rs 5 crore. The artist, however, had humble beginnings in the Tamluk village of West Bengal’s Purba Medinipur district. Intrigued by the skills of idol-makers of rural Bengal, he had taken up the craft by the time he was a teenager. “When I was 15, I was already making idols of goddesses that I would sell to schools before the pujas,” he recalls.
Having discovered a penchant for art, Maity decided to pursue an education in the field that led him to discover painting and as he moved from watercolours, to acrylics and oils, clay inadvertently took
a backseat. Infinite Light, in a way, therefore, is also an ode to his artistic journey that seems to have come full circle, much like the circle of life that he explores in his numerous ‘spiritual’ paintings that are part of the show.
There is perhaps nothing new that one can say about Maity’s paintings. Often grand in scale, and rich in hue and texture, the oil and acrylic works visibly mirror the flamboyance of the beret-clad artist himself.
A closer inspection reveals, beneath the evocatively textured layers of paint, the recurrent motif of a flight of stairs, and his oft-revisited subject, the river. Those familiar with Maity’s works will surmise accurately that a lot of these were painted, like many of his earlier pieces, in Varanasi, the temple town that has played a lifelong muse for the artist. “It’s an enchanting city. It is a place that has energy from morning till night, even midnight. So an artist is bound to get charged to create. I have probably been to Varanasi at least 100 times in the last 37 years,” says the 57-year-old.
The stair motif, he elaborates, is symbolic of the “journey to heaven and eternity.” Maity, however, insists that the works are not religious, and that the destination is reflective of one’s sense of “enlightenment.” If dissected, the elements in Maity’s paintings from Varanasi seem like the pieces of a puzzle—the blue water, the brownish-ochre skylines, juxtaposed with the motifs of temples, boats and stairs, and also the medium, particularly his use of sawdust that lends the canvas a corrosion effect—which when put together, encapsulate the essence of life as a journey in the most serene ways. Infinite Light, which also features a collection of installations, bronze sculptures as well as theatre and soundscapes by the artist made over his three-decade-long career, will next move to Mumbai.