My ideas run through my head like a film reel: Veteran artist Madhavi Parekh

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New Delhi : One of India's most collected modern artists, Madhavi Parekh, who attributes her five-decade-long career to her husband, noted painter, Manu Parekh, says the images she paints run through her head like a film reel and that her village life has had a profound influence on her work.


"The ideas I paint run through my mind like a film reel. The life forms inside larger creatures, like the king of the water, are like unborn children. We have seen cows calving, dogs having pups, it's all part of village life," Parekh told IANS in an email interview ahead of her retrospective that is set to open in Mumbai.

The modern painter, known for her folk motifs emanating from her years in a Gujarat village, began painting in 1964 with simple drawings and folk motifs inspired by her village life -- and attributes it all to her husband.

"One day I told my husband that I want to learn painting and he was elated by the idea. Rather than theorising art, he asked me to draw a circle, a square, a triangle. Before long, these shapes started evolving into distinct forms -- a moon, a speaking tree," Parekh explained.

In the years that followed those drawing exercises, she went on to make oil-on-canvas paintings, reverse paintings, serigraphs, etchings and drawings, using everything from glitter pens to brush and ink on art paper.

She links the vocabulary she found early on in her career to the retrospective exhibition, which shows an acquired consistency in her work, throughout her career.

"The retrospective shows how the vocabulary stayed consistent even as the range of subjects that interested me, grew from village life to life events like motherhood, mythology, capturing the movements of a flying man or a dancer, and 'The Last Supper', most recently."

Her innovative take on Leonardo da Vinci's 15th-century mural "The Last Supper" -- showcasing Jesus Christ dining with his apostles the day before he was crucified -- is much-talked about.

This artwork, done entirely using reverse painting and muted colours, has disciples wearing masks from all over the world.

"I was drawn to Jesus since childhood. I observed a lot of parallels between Christianity and what we learned in stories from Hinduism. Since my visits to churches abroad, I was attracted to the image of Jesus and that is how I started illustrating him," the iconic painter said.

The 76-year-old says the Indian art space has "come a long way" in the past five decades, with people now talking about art as a market.

"India has witnessed an increasing appetite for art among the public, driven by the rise in cultural initiatives, including art festivals, exhibitions in galleries, and other grand events such as art biennales."

Having been part of a group of contemporary women artists with Nalini Malani, Arpita Singh and Nilima Sheikh, Parekh says she always found herself at the cusp of debates around modernity in Indian art and contemporary women artists.

"Women have always been artists, and there always have been glimpses of women's art within male-driven societies. Earlier, many women were kept from pursuing a general education, let alone arts training."

However, she highlights the gradually changing landscape and says women have started to speak about the issues they face through art.

To that extent, the retrospective, accompanied by an exhaustive book on the artist, seeks to understand, contextualise and place her contribution within the larger context of Indian modern art.

"Madhavi Parekh: A Curious Seeker" even includes rare drawings and paintings from the 1960s. It has contributions from art curator Gayatri Sinha and art historian Annapurna Garimella and will open at Mumbai's DAG Kala Ghoda Gallery on August 11.

(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at siddhi.j@ians.in)