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The exploding chrysalis

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Don't look now but Paresh Maity is moulting.
Two things happened simultaneously at the start of the 21st century (actually, a lot of things happened at the start of the 21st century, but we're focusing macro here), the prices for works by artist Paresh Maity started heaving upwards, and critics on the side starting muttering that he was turning into a decorators' favourite.
For those not strictly within the hallowed circle of the art fraternity, this was a serious implication "" that perhaps Maity was being "promoted", that his paintings were more hype than substance, that he was turning into a society artist who would not leave any long-term impression on the scroll of contemporary art in India.
This much was certainly true, that Maity was in danger of being confined to the romantic Bengal school, that the more he painted using his signature primary colours over large canvases, the more his collectors lavished him with praise and wealth.
But somewhere, those murmurs seemed to have reached him, for in a turnaround that is quite amazing, Maity "" as prolific as he is talented "" has put together a show (currently on at CIMA, Kolkata) that does not break from his past oeuvre, yet points to a level of experimentation and abstraction that is a pointer to how he is evolving.
It also points to an artist serious about documenting his work "" the catalogue takes the form of a book, produced under his supervision, and is the second within a year with such lavish production. "It is," agrees CIMA chief administrator Iti Sarkar, "a scrumptious book."
Given Maity's rising prices, that book is also what many collectors will be able to afford (his highest priced work at the show is Rs 34 lakh, though there are drawings for Rs 30,000), but Maity's new work is the more interesting for he breaks all stereotypes about himself, says Sarkar, pointing to his photographs shown for the first time at any exhibition (Rs 34,000) as well as his sculptures ("assembled not by artisans but made entirely by him", for over Rs 1 lakh each). The large number of drawings "that reveal the hand of the artist" help point to an effective art education. "I make drawings like some people write a daily diary," says Maity. "It's a part of my life."
Definitely, Sarkar admits, Maity is moulting. "He is an Indian artist working on Indian themes but painting them in a European, classical way," she says.
"There's more light and texture in his work than before." A strong spiritual ("not ritual", Sarkar insists) element too is cognisable. "It's becoming simpler, with fewer extraneous details, more abstraction," she adds.
Maity also seems to have taken a break from the mega scale of some of his earlier works, and is veering increasingly towards mixed media that combines watercolour and conte over Japanese rice paper pasted over French and Italian paper.
Here, the textured feel is abstract, or at least allows sufficient scope for abstraction even within his comfort zone of the figurative.
The strokes are bold, vivid, unlike his watercolours where, he says, he prefers the minimalist oriental approach, opting to use "very few details" on the one hand, "tonal variations" on the other. Even his oils, points out art critic Ella Datta, seem suspended in "a more melancholy note".
In Maity's work, this is a point of transition.

First Published: Sat, December 22 2007. 00:00 IST