“We had Mr Baburao Sadwelkar as a professor, too. So, it was like two different schools, people with two different temperaments. However, I always leaned towards Palsikar, if one had to choose.” - Manu Parekh
Born in 1939, Manu Parekh made his way to JJ after his stint in one of the schools of art in Ahmedabad. The repertory of radical imageries throughout his oeuvre marks an ongoing calculative pace of observation as well as his perception. Whether it is compartmentalised paintings of Benaras or organic vase-series or exceptionally brilliant canvases with plunging and captivating brushstrokes, they all reverberate with energetic mobility. Although this temporary pandemic situation makes a compulsive hurdle to our conversations, the impulsive replies by Manu Parekh are grippingly embryonic.
“She (Madhvi) religiously painted until her last month of pregnancy. And, I was convinced she can become a great artist.” - Manu Parekh
AA: Could you elaborate on the beginning of your relationship with Madhvi Parekh?
MP: Madhvi does not have a formal education in art. When I was 12 and she was nine we were betrothed without seeing each other in a typically traditional engagement in Gujarat. Our parents had mutually decided. At that time, we were not mature enough to decide for ourselves. Later, we got married.
We did not live together for five long years, during which we finished our education. I used to visit my native to meet her. When we had begun living together in Mumbai, I made her join Montessori. I had expected that she could pursue teaching being a daughter of one. But during the course, she got pregnant. Generally, pregnant ladies read religious books like Ramayana and Mahabharata. But Madhavi had different plans; she desired to learn painting. I did not pay heed for a week but she came back complaining. However, I already had a plan. I had decided to ask her to study Paul Klee’s pedagogical exercises. For your information, Madhavi is a tomboy—she would climb trees in the village and perform all sorts of adventures. Initially, she sincerely practised, but later she began to scribble animals and being a native inhabitant, she began to express village-men and its lifestyle. She religiously painted until her last month of pregnancy. And, I was convinced she can become a great artist.
Manisha was born and we were busy taking care of her for a year. I had thought I would take up a job for a year and then resume art-practice. But I realised if Madhvi works then she will lose here capability to express. In this call, I ended up working for 25 years!
AA: Who, other than Shankar Palsikar, taught you at JJ?
MP: I am definitely indebted and obliged to Mr Shankar Palsikar. I feel the training of JJ is still assisting me in my expressions. The JJ-ness still reflects in our works and especially whoever is trained under Palsikar, there is a difference. We had Mr Baburao Sadwelkar as a professor, too. So, it was like two different schools, people with two different temperaments. However, I always leaned towards Palsikar, if one had to choose. In the third year, we had Mr Sukhadwala who taught us drawing. So, JJ is crucial in my art upbringing. Education has really been pivotal in my life. And, yes, Paul Klee is important in both of our lives.
AA: Do you and Madhvi comment on each other’s works?
MP: Yes, we do that regularly. We work separately but we do exchange ideas, which is normal.
AA: What are your views on the present digital art scenario? The time has changed a lot from what you practised to what today’s youth is performing in art...
MP: It is indeed a very interesting medium for the younger generation. I am really impressed to witness this change. Language has evolved. I am always interested to learn and know their work. Manisha and Deepa are well-established in their mediums. So, I feel they are doing fine.
AA: Do you think the rudimentary practice of drawing is losing control today with the contemporary art replacing the values of practice?
MP: In a way, I will not agree to this. The younger generation may use computers and technology, but they have a good sense of drawing. And, I believe if you are not aware of Drawing as a vital subject, then you cannot make art. So, whatever communication I have with my younger friends I feel they are doing great and are adept in this sensibility.
AA: You have travelled immensely and are enriched by regional experiences. Could you share a bit with us?
MP: I have travelled to Haryana Bihar, Kashi and many others. And if you displace me anywhere or any Indian native, I can comfortably sustain. India is such a big country and to enjoy and experience the remote-pleasure you have to be an Indian. I lived in Kolkata for 10 years, they accepted me and I had loved the location. In fact, I had a fantasy to either live in Kolkata or Paris. Fortunately, my job transfer happened in Kolkata and the authority there did not allow me to leave early. I became a part of the Kolkata society. Bengalis are indeed rooted, I feel.
So when I had to arrive in Delhi, leaving Kolkata, I missed the city tremendously. So, I needed a change. With the exposure and inspiration from Kolkata, I decided to travel to Benaras. It is 40 years now, but I have the same unchanged fascination for all of them.
“Individualism does not exist, rather it is not real. We have moved forward from history by sharing and borrowing stuff with and from each other.”
- Manu Parekh
AA: In the work Saint Souza, it feels like you are being empathetic with FN Souza? Could you share more about this, why Souza? Did you inspire by his ideology or works?
MP: Because I am from Bombay (Mumbai), I am also influenced by the Progressives Artists Group (PAG). I had a close friendship with Souza. No one could mingle with him but I had a good rapport. And, Souza has and had a powerful language. I simply like his abstract expressionist style of works. Also, I feel Rabindranath Tagore is also a great painter. I have borrowed a few elements from both of them. And I don’t feel withdrawn talking about this borrowing idea. It is because individualism does not exist, rather it is not real. We have moved forward from history by sharing and borrowing stuff with and from each other. But our product should be rooted in our personality. This is really crucial!