Blurred by the morning mist, the mountains stand grand on the horizon while fishing boats sit afloat in rippling river water in the foreground. Artist Paresh Maity’s inimitable landscapes in watercolour are long-drawn prose that hold one’s gaze in a trance.
After a lifetime spent in front of nature and behind canvas, painting a great spectrum of subjects, it is the dinghy boats of his childhood on the banks of the Hooghly in Tamluk, West Bengal, that the 57-year-old artist keeps going back to. (Also read: Artist Paresh Maity will hold India’s largest solo exhibition ‘Infinite Light’)
“Growing up in a town near the sea, it was my first inspiration to draw a boat,” Maity, whose paintings are being exhibited at Bikaner House here, told PTI.
Organised by Art Alive Gallery in Delhi, the retrospective art exhibition, “Infinite Light”, showcases 150 artworks, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and films. In the next five months, about 450 pieces of art will be shown in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.
Over the nearly four decades of his career, it is the image of a boat, steeped in nostalgia, that has stayed with Maity, manifesting itself in most of his creations – some times upfront, at others tucked away in a corner.
“The boat strikes me as a symbol of life. You have to remember before any other vehicles, we had these wooden vehicles. A boat is always there. Even when it is stationary, anchored, it has a movement. I always feel that the boat has a life,” the Padma Shri award winner said.
Maity talked about his relation with arts, cities that inspired him to paint and how he looks at light, a prominent play in his paintings.
Be it Italy’s Venice or the spiritual ghats of Varanasi, he finds inspiration in these cities on water. A large section of the show has been dedicated to the latter while a few grand watercolour paintings point at his romance with the former.
“I painted this waterfront at the San Marco Square in Venice. I have been to Venice 27 times since 1993. I have been painting this city all these years. Venice is the most romantic, energetic and chaotic place for any artist, photographer, writer,” he said standing in front of the painting titled “Lagoon”.
The painting shows a number of boats, some moored and some midstream, in the foreground of the famous Piazza San Marco as different hues of light played in the sky filled with scattered clouds.
“This place has magic,” Maity said dreamily, almost in a whisper.
Having dedicated an entire floor to his paintings and drawings of Varanasi, the painter proudly admits to having travelled to the holy city “hundreds of times” in the last 37 years.
His love for the city is evident with a 45-feet painting titled “Nirvana”, the largest at the exhibition, of Varanasi as the city celebrates the famous Dev Deepawali.
Earthen lamps lighting up the steps of the many ghats, temples dipped in a crimson hue in one corner and a solitary boat in another lay out Varanasi in all its mellow splendour. The continuous soundtrack, which fills the large room with the sound of temple bells and a mellow flute playing over the waves crashing on the ghats, completes the quintessential picture of Varanasi.
Talking about the spirituality of the place and his practice, Maity said art in essence is uplifting and enlightening.
“Art is very spiritual. It is very deep, that’s why it enlightens the lives of people. It uplifts. It has to be deep rooted, spiritual, and come from the core of your heart. What you see is absorbed and it comes out of your heart, and the hand is just a tool,” he said.
Maity, who considers English painter JMW Turner his role model, plays with the concept of light in his paintings and brings to canvas hues of late evenings and early mornings with equal depth.
While his painting “Alpenglow” features the optical phenomenon of the same name that generally appears as a reddish glow on the mountains after sunset and before sunrise, “Island” showcases a fishing village, where a shallow layer of fog lingers above the water surface, as a watch tower is illuminated by the light of the rising sun.
“The light is an essential part in anything and everything. Light is life, without light there is nothing in this world,” the master painter said.
The exhibition also features his sculptures including the “Golden Shower” fashioned after the Amaltas tree, “Sangam” depicting the confluence of a woman, man and a child in the same structure, “The Pair” showing the duality of the universe, and “Urbanscape”, modelled after a jackfruit, depicting the urban life.
Curated by poet Ranjit Hoskote, the show started on November 5 and ends on November 18 at Bikaner House, November 12-25 at India Habitat Centre, and from December 1 to January 10 at Art Alive Gallery.
Mumbai-based Art Musings will showcase Maity’s works from December 3. The Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA) in Kolkata will feature it from December 12, and the Gallery Sumukha will exhibit the works from February 4.
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