As one enters the main exhibition hall of the National Gallery of Modern Art, the bright, bold and overwhelming 48’X33’, “The Last Supper”, which is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s work by the same name, welcomes the viewer. This is Manu Parekh’s latest work and draws heavily from his earlier experiences in the world of theatre. “My initial thought was that I would choose 13 actors and give them individual cabins and use only a table and some prop as food. But as I completed 60 percent of this work, I decided to put it together as one, big painting,” he says. The spacious hall is bathed in colourful hues with a large body of Manu’s works starting from as early as the ’60s when he graduated from JJ School of Art. It is this section of his much-deserved retrospective that the Delhi-based artist is nostalgic about. “I have framed many of my works from the ’60s for the first time. It is nostalgic as well as satisfactory at the same time to come so far with the entire struggle,” he admits.
Famed for his popular “Benaras’ Series, in which he painted the ancient temple city with a fresh outlook and perspective, capturing its towering temples alongside the intermingling of faith in all its uniqueness, this is for the first time the viewers will see all his works under one roof. Another popular series is that of ‘Falling Horse’ and reminiscing about this series Manu says, “I have been to race course only once and when I went there an ambassador was parked somewhere with a canvas atop. All my attention was focused on the car because I was wondering what exactly it was doing there. Then in the second race, one of the horses was hurt and the car came with two people holding the canvas. Then they took the horse to a nearby place and held the canvas in front of it. The horse was cremated behind this canvas. That was a moment of learning because in no time the pain was removed. This is how the series started.”
Coming from a middle-class family, Manu’s work always contained a sense of earthiness and reflected a strong connection with India’s bucolic landscape. A reflection of interiors of India was seen through his paintings; the choice of colours too has been bright and vibrant, except for his 80s work and one particular artwork in which he has painted Benaras in monochromatic hues. Ask him why he chose to strip a vibrant city like Benaras off colours, pat comes the reply, “I think black and white can also create colourful quality through tonnes… also, I am not afraid of colours. I can create a perfect painting only if you give me four colours. But, I think it is important to think differently and that is why a black and white Benaras.”
The Delhi-based artist has often talked about his influences that come from Rabindranath Tagore and F.N.Souza, but nowhere are their impressions reflected in his works. To this, Manu responds by saying, “Frankly, I find this influence word a bit derogatory. I would like to use the word connection or references. So, when I paint Benaras, I put a tree somewhere because, in a mischievous way, I am referring to Tagore. Similarly, Souza once said that he will make a landscape in which he will take churches from England and Paris. So, he gives us a powerful landscape that is not associated with a particular place. So, I decide to create particularisation of a place or a city and that is why Benaras. So, these are only references and not exactly influences.”
Recipient of prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi Award, he was associated with Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation of India for over 20 years. His works are often contradictory in nature and this quality, he says, comes from his observations and personal experiences. “We are full of contrasts and contradictions and in between, there are some dynamics that we can explain. So, I try to show both facets of life through my works,” he concludes.
Manu Parekh: 60 years of selected works is on until September 24 at NGMA.