When the world dances before Manu Parekh’s eyes, it does so in total perfection. Everything has its place; Parekh feels that the magic exists for everybody who chooses to see it. Parekh constantly engages the onlooker through his exploration of the relationship between man and nature, and the influences of the socio-political and cultural environment of the times. To Parekh, the world of art is an all-encompassing one, where every experience contributes to the nature of art.
Parekh’s earliest memories of art go back to when he was a seven year old at a village school. There, he found he had a way with a pencil and was often called upon by the teacher to demonstrate diagrams for the class. Everything changed when he arrived at the JJ School, where he discovered the philosophy of Paul Klee, one that weighs greatly on Parekh’s artistic philosophy. Born 1939 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, acclaimed master Manu Parekh is a Mumbai JJ School of Art alumnus. Growing up in a Gandhian household, his initiation began with his first teacher Mukund Shroff, followed by two Ahmedabad artists – Rasik Lal Parekh and Kanu Desai. SB Palsikar, the dean of JJ School of Art, introduced Parekh to miniature painting and works of artists like Paul Klee. Although a junior, Parekh shared a great friendship with FN Souza and MF Husain.
Parekh’s brief stint at National School of Drama, as an actor and stage designer, also has a deep influence on his approach to life and work. This stint as an actor is an underlying element of his paintings, and he says: “When I paint faces now, I don’t paint a face, I paint expressions. But when I paint an expression, I’m actually painting a situation.” The theatre experience would result in the dramatic work of vivid colours and prominent lines made visible in his Banaras series, especially works like Banaras in Red and Banaras Landscape VII. Banaras evolved as an inspiration when he visited it in the aftermath of his father’s death – including its “teeming Ghats and temple spires set against the orange hues of sunsets and cobalt blue skies.”
In 1974, Parekh settled in New Delhi, starting off as a Design Consultant with the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation of India, which he soon left to begin his career as a freelance artist. Parekh struggled in the early times as a painter since his paintings were misunderstood to be of a harsh, abrasive nature, thanks to his bold strokes and almost intense energy – which actually intended to convey an aura of positivity. In his works, Parekh constantly engages the onlooker through his exploration of the relationship between man and nature, and the influences of the socio-political and cultural environment of the times. His flower vase series is sometimes reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh or even Ambrosius Bosschaert. Indian landscapes and Banaras-scenes incorporating various ‘lights at temple’ are part of his work; while his determination to not let any western influences inform his landscape paintings is commendable. The outgoing, forceful approach of Parekh’s paintings are seen in his series ‘The Bhagalpur Blinding’s’, – using the traditional folk art of Madhubani and started in the 80s after an incident involving 31 under-trials blinded with acid by the local police.
Parekh was awarded the President of India’s Silver Plaque and the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society Award, New Delhi (1972); the National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (1982); and the Padma Shri in 1992. Parekh received an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, in 2013.Manu Parekh’s modern art paintings spanning six decades continue to be featured by Indian art galleries, including Gallerie Splash, and are seen by many today as a worthwhile option for art as investment, especially as paintings for home. In his conversations with Jinoy and Sreejith of Gallerie Splash, he indicated his happiness in being successful as a painter despite the initial hardships and also mentioned his joy in being able to exhibit at all the NGMA events including Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, an honour very few artists have enjoyed.