I have been looking at Madhvi Parekh’s paintings for many years. Critics have written appreciatively about her works. Her painting is influenced by folk-art. Over the years, it has progressively evolved. One can discern in it the influence of contemporary art. Madhvi Parekh has been inspired by modern artists from Paul Klee to Clemente. Out of this inspiration she has created her own worlds. After going through all the critical writing on her work, I wonder if I could add anything to it.
When I encounter her work my response keeps changing. In her watercolours the use of transparent layers of lighter colours to create darker effects brings out pain in them. In her early oil paintings, the dots etc. remind one of children and adults going round and round, playing in circles. At times, it seems that an entire family is riding on a giant wheel. Seeing her latest works done in black, I feel as if men, women, and children are out on a train ride. There is curiosity on their faces. With eyes wide open, they look at mountains, animals, birds, and houses. The train moves on but the curiosity remains insatiate. It is present everywhere in her paintings. People enjoying diverse pleasures move about fearlessly in the jungle. They are not scared of the animals because the animals too move about like human beings. The train moves on passing through different stations. Three such canvases have been joined together to form this work.
It is no longer possible for me to write directly about Madhvi Parekh’s paintings. My mind blanks out. It gets crowded with innumerable other thoughts. However, if I contemplate on those thoughts themselves, they form indirect connections with Madhvi Parekh’s art. It is not unlikely that they have been influenced by other critical responses I have read:
1. Why do old wedding-songs, morning-prayers, film-songs, forgotten affairs, pain and longings, reawaken desire? Blood oozes again from old wounds; the unconscious transports its imagery into painting. When the conscious mind watches this, it experiences a sense of wonder.
2. Small paintings are short-stories. The three large canvases together cover a range of episodes with the quality of an epic like the Mahabharata. Though a part of the larger narrative, the many episodes can be enjoyed independently by themselves.
3. What is the importance of ideas in painting? None, whatsoever.
What is the criterion for assessing a painting? That it should delight the viewer. From the point of view of ideas, the incidents Jean Genet wrote in A Thief’s Journal are unethical. During the Second World War he had sexual relations with the soldiers of the fascist Germany; he made love to the enemy. As art, however, the journal is perfectly acceptable.
4. Only a work born out of immediate personal experience sounds true. Borrowed imagery cannot be internalised.
5. Shed embellishment in art. Avoid adjectives in expression. Keep only the bone; leave out the fat. Only skeletons survive millennia.
6. I consider Henry Rousseau the greatest painter of all time. Manet (Eduard Manet) is intelligent and clever, the birth of a work of art involves principles that transcend ideas and intelligence. The personality and being of Henry Rousseau are his paintings.
(Translated from Gujarati by Dr Ganesh Devi)