You are here: Home » Beyond Business » Features
Business Standard

Laughter on canvas

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Artist Nayanaa Kanodia prefers the burlesque to the grotesque. She tells Kishore Singh why.
Men," sighs Nayanaa Kanodia, "have it easy." The 57-year-old grandmom swathed in silks and shawls isn't being feminist, only, she insists, a realist.
"My daughter-in-law complains I don't play with the grandchildren," but the self-taught, naïve (she detests the term, insists it is "limiting") artist is a disciplined painter, finding the time for her easels and paints and brushes amidst the demands of a full-blown Marwari family that is very close and, therefore, demanding. "Men," she points out, "can just get up and leave."
Such demands have always been a part of her life. Initially, it was her mother who would not let her join the College of Art because what it got you was a diploma, not a degree.
Then, she reconciled to marriage, family, children, till her first show at Mumbai's Cymroza art gallery in 1986 which got her so many accolades, even though her portrayal was refreshingly different. "I have," laughs Kanodia ""she laughs a lot, and easily "" "a very strong fan following. Those who like my work love it, others simply hate it."
When her latest show opened at Jehangir in Mumbai, it quickly pulled in those fans and patrons and gallerist Sunaina Anand literally had to beg to be allowed to bring some of the sold works to Delhi for the Art Alive exhibition that opens today. "This show," insists Anand, "will take her to another level, away from just pretty pictures."
Those pretty pictures, Kanodia tells you, are actually documentary in nature "and will be very important 30-40 years from now". That's because the subjects of her content "" whether the Indian tradespeople like panwallahs and phoolwallahs, or transport systems "" would have all but disappeared from a transforming India.
To that extent, her current "Distinguished Company" series has probably pulled in a huge amount of research since it involves placing, in some context, the works of other masters within her canvases. So she has F N Souza and M F Husain, Tyeb Mehta and Jamini Roy, Manjit Bawa and Anjolie Ela Menon sharing space in her paintings and, "because this is such a major show" even Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol and Frieda Kahlo whose techniques she studied along with their psychology. "Souza," she points out, "probably painted all those buxom women because as a child he saw his mother measuring other women "" she was a seamstress."
The context within which she places the masters is amusing "" young collectors gloating over their Tyeb Mehtas, strikingly dressed women posing under Picassos, Modgliani fans dressing up like Modgliani paintings, Raza fans merchandising his familiar motifs and extending the theme to every aspect of their life... "It is," giggles Kanodia, "a take-off on society," and she doesn't stop even from taking a dig at gallerists in a work titled Gallery of Rogues ("it points to the pitfall of fakes," she explains, though unscrupulous money making might just as easily be the motive).
Considering the satire can be biting, why did she leverage her work in a style that could be taken less than seriously? She might have said that her personality has a light, breezy touch, that she is cheerful by nature. Instead, she castigates, "It's easier to paint morbid, tragic situations, but to feel the pain and bring out the humour is more difficult." Touche.

First Published: Sat, December 15 2007. 00:00 IST