Manu Parekh: Exploring the Soul of Varanasi through Colours and Expressions

Thursday, February 22, 2024
Manu Parekh: Exploring the Soul of Varanasi through Colours and Expressions

Manu Parekh, a celebrated Indian painter, has created a profound mark on the horizon of modern Indian art with his distinctive style and exploration of inner landscapes. Born in Ahmedabad in 1939, Parekh's artistic journey has been shaped by various influences, from his training at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai to his exposure to the philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore, F. N Souza, and Paul Klee.

Parekh's artistic odyssey began with a Diploma in Drawing and Painting under the guidance of Mukund Shroff at Sir J.J. School of Art in 1962. Early in his career, he was drawn to the philosophy of Paul Klee, particularly Klee's "Thinking Eye," which emphasised themes of non-positivity, elusiveness, and the uncertainty of existence. This influence is evident in Parekh's early works, such as "The Head of Boy"(1961), where he seamlessly blended the formal qualities of Indian folk art with Klee's line and rhythm.

The artist's journey took an intriguing turn when he joined the Weavers’ Service Centre, an initiative focused on reviving traditional and village arts in India. Working with Pupul Jayakar, a renowned cultural activist, and writer, Parekh travelled to rural areas, including Orissa, Rajasthan, and Haryana, documenting traditional crafts like Ikat and Madhubani. This experience not only broadened his artistic horizons but also laid the foundation for themes of fertility and nature in his early works.

Parekh's connection with theatre during the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he participated in drama competitions and designed sets, played a pivotal role in shaping his distinctive brushstrokes and expressive portraits. His statement, "When I paint heads, I paint expressions,"reflects the profound impact of his theatrical background on his artistic approach.

While the city of Kolkata also served as one of Parekh's muse, it was Varanasi that captured his imagination for over three decades. The Banaras Series, one of his most renowned works, vividly captures the essence of the "city of light." Through bold strokes and vibrant colours, Parekh brings to life the ghats, temples, and daily activities of Varanasi, creating a visual narrative that transcends the ordinary.

Image: Head III, 30 x 24 in, Acrylic on canvas, 2019

In an interview, Parekh expressed,"Till date, I'm not bored of painting a Banaras landscape. It's a city full of energy where you can witness life and death together." His series goes beyond the conventional portrayal of Varanasi, presenting the mundane activities of its people, offering a unique perspective on the city's vibrant and dynamic life. The outdoors of religious places, with their objects and graffiti, serve as a constant source of inspiration for Parekh, reflecting his commitment to bringing an essence of Indianness into his work.

Throughout his illustrious career, Manu Parekh has received numerous awards and accolades, including the Birla Academy of Art and Culture award (1971 and 1991), the Silver Plaque of the President of India (1972), the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS) award (1972 and 1974), the National Art Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi (1982), and the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government of India (1991).

Manu Parekh's art is a testament to his relentless exploration of the human experience, blending diverse influences and experiences into a tapestry that reflects the soul of India. As he continues to paint the vibrant landscapes of Varanasi, his work resonates with the energy of life and the timeless spirit of the ancient city.

In its upcoming ‘Dimensions Defined’ modern Indian art auction scheduled for Feb 22-23, AstaGuru will showcase a range of works by the artist.

- Authored by Sunny Chandiramani, Senior Vice President at AstaGuru Auction House.

Main Image :Untitled, 36 x 36 in, Acrylic on canvas board, 2005

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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