Anjolie Ela Menon began practising oil painting when she was 12! To an utter surprise, she had also sold a couple of her works by the time she turned 15. There is still more—by 18 she had a solo show as a feather in her cap. Asserting a
progressive career path, she reminisces, “I had wished to become an artist. And, I was inspired by my high school art teacher, Sushil Mukherjee.” In 2000, she was awarded the fourth highest Indian civilian award, Padamshree. The progress-arrow on her art-career graph has never witnessed a receding direction! Adding to these successful milestones, she has received Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from France. One of the popular works, Yatra, was accessioned by the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Moreover, Menon has been part of several national and international art exhibitions.
Over an email conversation, I was not only captivated to learn about her inspirations and inclinations in learning and pursuing a career in painting but also how this form of expression has helped her to relieve the stress.
AA: How do you describe your daily routine of painting?
AEM: My studio is located inside an urban village called a Basti, where people have co existed for several centuries. Remarkably, the narrow lanes are replete with pilgrims, goatherds, and indigenous people. Besides, the village also houses a beautiful Sufi centre. My studio is a two-room apartment. I go every morning and work there until 2 pm. After joining my grandchildren for lunch, I return by 5 pm to add or layer my work with fresh paint. My painting technique deploys several translucent layers to achieve the final surface.
“Despite my digressions in trying other mediums, I have tended to return to my favourite medium -- oil on hard surfaces like wood or masonite.”
AA: I read that MF Husain was your mentor and you are inspired by Amrita Sher Gils works as well. What exactly did inspire you -the works or the concepts or their style? Please elaborate
AEM: MF Hussain, the renowned painter, did notice my works and had also arranged two exhibitions. I not only received critical acclaim but also a scholarship to the Ecole des Beau Arts, Paris. It was tough in Paris at the Atelier Fresque, unheated in the bitter winter,
scaling scaffoldings and carrying buckets of plaster. The summers were wonderful hitch—travelling all over
Europe on a shoestring budget. It was overwhelming to stare at Romanesque churches while learning to speak French. I had an atelier apartment in
the Maison des Etats Uni in the Cite. And, I had also shared a studio for a while with the now-famous Fransisco Toledo. Later, I had also travelled to the US. There, I was hosted by Edgar J Kauffman, spent a couple of days at Falling Waters and painted a series on Harlem in his barn, where young artists were encouraged to visit and paint.
“MF Hussain, the renowned painter did see my works and had also arranged two exhibitions. I not only received critical acclaim but also a scholarship to the Ecole des Beau Arts, Paris.”
AA: I would like to know about your varying series: Mother and child series, Namboodiri series, Mahakumb, Window, and others if any. Could you tell us more about them?
AEM: This must be my 53rd solo exhibition. I had shown some new paintings while some I had borrowed from US collectors. Earlier, I worked on themes like nudes, mother and child, windows, crows, chairs, among others. This was one of the best shows because I also displayed the five maquettes, which I had done for Mumbai airport in collaboration with photographer, Robyn Beeche.
“Both the elements, the colour, and the ornate embellishment, of Byzantium, struck a chord with my Indian roots. The stark frontal presentation of iconic figures has continued to influence me until today.”
AA: You had said you were influenced by Medieval Christian Art. How did this European culture reflect in your work?
AEM: During my stay in Paris, I had embraced the austere beauty of early Christian art instead of being influenced by the cubists, unlike my peers. Both the elements, the colour, and the ornate embellishment, of Byzantium, struck a chord with my Indian roots. The stark frontal presentation of iconic figures has continued to influence me until today.
AA: Could you share us about your journey of practising nudes?
AEM: In art school, we practised from nude models. However, Giselbertus’ nude Eve in the cathedral of Autun, France was the initial inspiration. And, one of my earliest paintings is also a nude self-portrait.
AA: We would love to know your interests, hobbies, and passion, in general.
AEM: I love to cook, spend time with family and friends, read, write, speak at different fora, and listen to classical music. I also run a small NGO for educating underprivileged kids. Lastly, I am writing a gastronomic travelogue. Despite my digressions in trying other mediums, I have tended to return to my favourite medium -- oil on hard surfaces like wood or masonite.
Anjolie Ela Menon philosophizes the mythological elements, wired in the cultural histories, irrespective of the location. What is interesting to note in her figurines is not only the personal and novel retellings but also the intense visual effect portrayed by her.