Madhvi Parekh is not your run-of-the-mill folk artist. Inspired by her artist husband, this 74-year-old painter picked up the brush only after her marriage. She borrows heavily from the folk art form of Gujarat—she hails from Sanjay, a small village in the state—and is what one would call ‘a contemporary artist’. At the ongoing exhibition at the Delhi Art Gallery Modern in Hauz Khas—which will continue till November 30—a retrospective of Madhvi’s works has been put together.
Married to celebrated artist Manu Parekh at the age of 15, this Delhi-based artist’s first inspirations came from watching him paint. Noticing her interest, Manu, an alumnus of Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, encouraged her. He introduced her to German Expressionist artist Paul Klee.
Madhvi decided to start painting when she was expecting. “I come from a village and we had always been taught that when a woman is pregnant she should think good thoughts, so that the baby in the womb imbibes it,” she says.
She asked her husband to show her how to paint. And he was more than happy. “I did not overwhelm her. Maybe that was the reason she was drawn to it. I drew parallels between Klee and Gandhiji, and rather than theorising art, I asked her to draw a circle, a square, a triangle,” says Manu.
Before long, these shapes started evolving into distinct forms—a moon, a speaking tree. The influence of Klee is apparent in quite a few of her works. “One look at her amateur drawings and I could see that there lay immense talent waiting to explode. So, rather than pushing her towards a form that she could not identify with, I let her paint as she chose—with vivid images of her village,” he says.
When you ask Madhvi what initially drew her to the folk art form, she says, “These images were all in my head. They are from the village I come from. Later, when I started travelling globally, I was inspired by other forms.”
To Manu, his wife seemed a natural contender for the space left behind by legendary Bengal artist Jamini Roy, who had begun at the start of the 20th century.A series on Christ and The Last Supper were a surprise for a world that believed that one cannot, or rather, doesn’t, merge Christ with folk art form. The artist smiles, “As a child I was drawn to Christianity as I had some Christian friends. Later, when I visited the Holocaust museum in Israel, I walked out very disturbed. Just outside there was a small, peaceful church. It seemed the opposite of all the hatred and atrocity. The image of Jesus attracted me and I started drawing him.”
Madhvi defies any boundaries on her art. This independent-minded artist will not let you pin her down to one single form. One meeting with her and you know that this petite woman is made of steel—she merges styles and forms at her will and overwhelms the art world with her give-a-damn attitude.