What would a tenth-grade rank-holder, the then talk of the town, do for a living when she grows up? Test her curing skills or break a computer code? When young Parvathi Nayar revealed her dream to be an artist to the school principal all hell broke loose. Between lashes of protests, her parents stood by her and welcomed her decision with both hands. Today, when her name resonates in the realms of Indian art world, Parvathi smiles humbly.
Being a part of Jaya Bachchan’s list of 70 best Indian artists to the Indian Government’s preferred painter for Mumbai International Airport, this woman of substance has been there and done it all.
Having a repertoire as impressive as any other big name in Indian art scenario, this Chennai-based Malayali artist has much to boast off. On her visit to the capital city Parvathi spares some time for the City Express.
“I have always drawn and painted, I suppose a child would always draw and paint but for me it was like finding myself. My mother was a painter, so the drawing materials such a charcoal and brushes were always available. Hence, I started with those at first,” Parvathi reminisces.
From those vibrant brush strokes that aided her in forming her individual style, Parvathi has come a long way. Today, her love for detailing which was persistently there ever since she commenced her artistic journey, has made her abandon lines and colours to find solace in pencil dots. It is with those pencil dots, she has created magic on humongous canvases that could narrate volumes in a glance.
“When you put a lot of detail together it tells a story. Like in literature, sometimes it is very descriptive that it delves deep into people’s psychology. But it is not the end in itself. For me, the detailing is a visual hook. It draws you in but then I am hoping you will see something larger beyond that,” Parvathi elucidates.
Parvathi’s works, be it the forensic cinema or the win lose draw series has similar qualities that prod human minds with unanswered questions. With intricate contours of pencil dots she unfastens the myriad facets of world and lets the viewer indulge in its complexities.
The poignant voids between the black dots are her protagonists. In her forensic cinema series, on wooden panels she freezes Raj Kapoor and Nargis in their Awara avatars and enmeshes the fast moving imagery of cinema with the mating of sperm and egg.
In that mélange of love and life, she captures the essence of forbidden love while beautifully depicting a sperm’s journey to meet with its counterpart.
But within all its unfathomable yet vocal obscurities of her cinema series, she tries to converse with the common man through hilarious English subtitles that accompany regional language films.
A stern and sober Raj Kapoor pronouncing ‘I am no gentleman, savage” would bring a smile to anybody’s face.
“The English subtitles for Indian films are quite interesting. When you do word-by-word translation, instead of meaning the same thing there is a big chance that whatever the actor wanted to convey becomes hilarious. Like the one or two I have given in the Forensic Cinema and my Tamil cinema series,” says Parvathi.
While the forensic and bones series deal with the body and its intricacies in minute details, location| locality series tries to locate our existence in our own body while interconnecting it with pathways and maps.
After receiving her Masters in Fine Arts from Central St Martins College of Art and Design, London, on a Chevening scholarship from the British government in 2004, Parvathi has gained a renewed confidence that took her to places.
Being the only Indian artist to present an installation of drawings at ArtSingapore, Singapore’s national art fair to having her works collected by institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum, The Sotheby’s Art Institute and Deutsche Bank, Parvathi’s achievements in the art field is immense.
She was among the seventy Indian artists including Anjolie Ela Menon, Akbar Padamsee, Badri Narayan and Satish Gujral selected by Jaya Bachchan to celebrate Amitab Bachchan’s 70th birthday by presenting him with 70 paintings. In her painting Rasa, panelling nine parts of Amitabh’s film Zanjeer which had him in his ‘angry youngman’ persona for the first time, she captures the most memorable moments of Bachchan’s performances in black and white and eases them out with a hint of crimson and jade here and there.
With a lighted fire cracker or sheer simplicity of a shrub, which stands apart from the pencil dot backdrop, Parvathi brings in fresh socio-cultural dimensions to the work. In Parvathi’s works the world achieves more vicinity in its details.
However, the abstract-like quality to it disappears once the work piques you in.
“Say with the forensic work, a lot of people approach it like, oh my god she did it all by herself and it’s so much work, so much detail and then they think it is an abstract. Once that draws you in, you realise there was something more to it. There’s a narrative, there’s a story, that it is looking at the body, life and the world in a different way,” quips Parvathi.
Parvathi says in order to survive in today’s art world one should constantly negotiate what is decorative, art and craft. And shape oneself accordingly.
When she looks at her love for detail, Parvathi also feels that she is very Indian at heart. “So there is that Indian impulse, even if it is the mehendi on your hand, the sari weaves, the designing quality about all of it is always there,” she says.
This woman in a man’s world do not find herself actively discriminated from the men in the field. “I don’t think there is any discrimination. However there is that Indian perception, when a man paints, it is considered as talent but when it is a woman, they say ‘what a nice hobby’. And I have to convince them that it is not a hobby, it is my profession, it is what I do, and it is not a pastime but my life,” says this single mother, whose adopted daughter, Ananya is four years old now.
About her daughter she says, “I really feel she is rewarding me rather than me rewarding her. It is really enriching as it is fulfilling in both ways for the child as well as me.
Parvathi’s love for her homeland is evident when she says she would love to do a series on Kerala streets sometime. She is waiting to capture the beauty of god’s own country with a camera to create something wonderful with it.