Meenakshi Wadhwa .. a piece of heart, and a piece of soul

It was an empty nest which drove Meenakshi to pick up the brush.

The year was 2007.   And along the way, in her own words, Art became therapeutic .. and painting, a relaxed absorption of thoughts.

And, as you view her recent canvas expressions of ‘Reflection’, ‘Silence’, ‘Beyond the Self’ or ‘Being Peace’ .. you hear the language of the unspoken in their silence.  Almost meditative.  No wonder, then, the calm.

Much like the artist herself.  A calmness which is a gift of time, perhaps .. or a heart full of love and joy.

And that is one of the first things you notice about Meenakshi.  The warmth.  Explains those warm tones on her canvases .. and the bright vibrant ones too, as you connect with her friendly and cheerful self.

Meenakshi Wadhwa with one of her recent works - 'Reflections' (Acrylic on Canvas)
Meenakshi Wadhwa with one of her recent works – ‘Reflections’ (Acrylic on Canvas)

While art somewhere was always an interest, it was much later in life that she started painting.  But as I observed from our conversation, the colours were picked up and absorbed long before they reached the canvas.

Meenakshi taught for over twenty five years in Delhi, before she moved to Mumbai in 2004.   It started from when she would visit her daughter’s kindergarten Happy Hours in South Delhi.  A young 21 year old Meenakshi joined the same school that season.  She was, in fact, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan’s first teacher too here.

A Master’s in English Literature already from Sophia College, Ajmer .. she did a course in Nursery Teacher Training and picked up a Degree in B.Ed to equip herself further, and went on to teach Primary sections in Mother’s International, Sanskriti and DPS over the next couple of decades.

But it was not only about Primary Sections alone.  Meenakshi found herself drawn to little special kids in her school who seemed challenged in some way or the other.  Investing time to draw them out, and hand hold them to a point where they gained confidence to go spread their own wings.  A little girl, for instance, in one of her classes just wouldn’t come to school, and would remain withdrawn almost always.  She is now doing her Masters in Criminology from U.K.

And Meenakshi, till date, remains connected with all ‘her’ kids.  The world has become smaller thanks to technology .. but takes a heart large to take all that world in too.  And all that love.

Its easy to see where her smiles come from.  And they too find their way on her canvases.

It been a journey .. a meandering path again to where she finds herself on her expressions on the canvas today.

She was still new in Mumbai, when the kids – a son and a daughter – flew out of the country to study further and work.  She missed them, and it became increasingly important to keep herself occupied and, well, distracted.

Some classes in Aerobics and Bollywood dancing happened.  Tanjore paintings too, about six-seven of them.  Pottery Painting on fine bone china – she created 30 beautiful pieces which were gifted away to friends.  Art had always been simmering interest .. and Meenakshi was now keen on exploring other mediums.

And then one day, thanks to a friend in her Aerobics class, she met with an art teacher who agreed to teach her.  Meenakshi was no beginner though, and was inclined to try start with something not very simple.  She had a picture of a painting on her phone – not a smartphone yet, the picture was grainy.  Was a nude.  And that was her first canvas.  A copy.

This was 2007, she was learning under a new teacher soon, and exploring her own range on the canvas.

By 2008, she was painting voraciously – mostly figurative, and mostly copies or from pictures.  She gathered more control on her strokes, explored textures .. and found her stride with the brush.

Soon, she developed her own personal unique conversation with the canvas too.  And it is three years now, Meenakshi has been creating and painting her own expressions on canvas.

‘My paintings reflect my world .. experiences of life, moments and situations,’ she says.

An influence of both realistic and contemporary is evident in her works, with the bewildering mélange of colours there is also a blend of creativity and ecstasy which reflects her own warm personality.  She brings herself to her art.

If there is calm (from years of life) .. there is also a happiness they exude.  Careful, yet playful, brush strokes for textures .. along with the colours create an energy their very own.

And as Meenakshi developed and explored her own expressions, her work seemed to move from figurative to abstract.

‘Doing abstract I feel free and expressive, and I have begun to expand my expressions with composition, colour and texture,’ she says.  She finds herself constantly exploring and learning.

‘A painting is not just an object.  It is many hours of errors and experimentation,’ she continues.  And that is where she finds herself very engaged and involved in its pursuit.

Today, Meenakshi paints for the sheer joy of constant discovery of her art .. and herself.  What started with keeping herself occupied when the kids flew the nest, is now a form akin to meditation.

And a profession. Meenakshi is a professional artist now, and painting takes up a huge part of her day. Her works have been exhibited in various reputed galleries.

While she taught, she was never ambitious.  She taught for the joy of teaching, for the joy of being with children, and for the joy impacting little lives.  Those were her pockets of ‘fulfilment’ in her workspace.

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.. going with the flow

And today, as she paints .. she again paints for the joy of it.  For the joy of an expression which resonates with the colors she herself has absorbed from life.  Happy warm colors mostly.

She is going with the flow.  Happily.

Painting is an expression, and she is determined to keep it like that ..

.. by simply allowing the expressions to flow naturally.

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Vijay Kiyawat – the CEO Water Colorist

Water Colorist Vijay Kiyawat started his painting career much later in life.  After four decades as corporate CEO, in fact.  An Engineer from IIT Kharagpur when he started his corporate career, and a self taught artist since.

Mr Kiyawat, the CEO Water Colorist .. as I thought to myself when I met him first at his show at Triveni about five years ago.

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Mr Kiyawat in his living room, as we discuss his journey from corporate to the world of art ..

His first show was in 2010, and his works have since showcased in various group and solo shows across the country.  And, the world.  They adorn walls and collections of discerning buyers, as they eagerly wait for his next series.

Mr Kiyawat is emerging in the Indian Contemporary Art scene.

And he is very clear when he says – ‘I paint for your joy’.

Whether that is the premise to his watercolors or does it happen most naturally, is something I found myself musing over again as I stood viewing some of his new paintings at a solo show earlier this year.

And, it was at this solo show at the Open Palm Court Gallery, Habitat Center that I nodded to myself – yes, there is much a piece art captures of the artist too.

The vibrancy of the colors reflects Mr Kiyawat’s own optimism, his explorations in his art itself.  The challenges he opens himself to constantly to try something new, an element of excitement at each new stroke ‘discovered’.  The dynamism.

And, the subtle shades reverberate tranquillity.  Meditative almost – like his approach to his art again.   Delving deeper, a little quieter sometimes .. a hint of silence .. a hum of music. Water colors, a chosen medium, again, for their ‘spiritual element’.

The colors and strokes juxtaposed with a deep love for nature, travel and literature.

And somewhere emerges, in his own words, a world of mystery.  Of fantasy.

Of joy.

Joys of explorations and experimentation with the medium too – varying size of the paintings, more definition to strokes.  The commentary is evolving constantly.

And like he himself says, the paintings remain drawn from the three major interests – nature, travel and literature.

One can see the influence of Delhi’s lush green sprawling gardens, trees and flowers in his My Dream Garden Series.  My Dream Poppies and The Meditation Series too are a riot of blossom colors.  And then in other paintings which might not be so much about a garden per se, yet a blossom would be peeping out mysteriously some place .. little quirk of its color .. a dash of saffron in ‘kahwa’.

Nature finds its way onto his paintings.  Much like the monsoon sun which streams in through the large French windows of his lovely home in Vasant Vihar.

Travels to Middle East, Europe, South East, U.S.A .. besides across the country  .. are inspirations again.  More than a hint of a Spanish villa in the show at Open Palm Court this year, for instance.  The visions collected seem to pour onto paper.  The vibrancy .. and the tranquility.  The blue of a very Turkish dome is reminiscent of a visit thereabouts.

Travels .. travel onto Mr Kiyawat’s paintings.  Most naturally.

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The artist with one of his paintings behind him. His lovely home is dotted with many such frames on the walls.

And then, Ritu-Sanhaar Series (Kaalidaas) .. is a sight to behold again.  The dialogue on various seasons .. the ‘ritu’ .. has a conversation within itself .. and with the other of the series.  Literature brought alive in colors.

While each painting is a work of love and labour, there goes as much serious thought on the framing too, he insists.  Three people sit over it debating on the colour of the frame and all other aspects – his wife, the dedicated framer and Mr Kiyawat himself.  It has to be a consensus.   There are no compromises on the quality.  And it shows.

As Mr Kiyawat weaves and paints his way through this beautiful medium, creating ‘joy’ .. its easy to see the  influence of years in corporate too.  If the Mechanical Engineering backdrop gets captured somewhere in the ‘structures’ in his compositions, a certain structure to his pursuance of his passion for painting is evident too.   Reflects on the importance he gives to framing, professional packaging and transportation to ensure good condition.  Most paintings are accompanied with a brief short label describing it as well.

As you view his works, you also are educated on the quality of paper and other supplies used.  In fact, he has a video channel on YouTube which details much of this. You can see him speak about water colors here.  He also shares about what inspires him as a water colorist in another video on the same channel.

Sharing, engaging and creating a reach.  For his art, and his thoughts too.

And spurred,  Mr Kiyawat created a webpage which he manages himself.  He writes a blog there, and even sells his work online.  You can visit him at www.vijaykiyawat.com

We were standing in his studio – a beautiful sunlit corner in his lovely home overlooking a huge expanse of green – as he detailed some more perspectives.

He stressed on the need for ‘focus’ for any artist.  The passion for painting has to be kept stoked constantly.  He himself spends 3-4 hours painting every day.  Not only about discipline – it also helps create a space to grow in your own art, technique, practice and experimentation.  And production, of course.

Production, along with Recognition and Marketing .. are what he considers the three important aspects for any artist.   The three hallmarks for a successful career as an artist.  And these need to be constantly worked at and maintained, he insists.

One of his recent blog entries got us speaking about another interesting aspect on water color painting.

When we look around, we do not find as many watercolorists as there would be perhaps those painting oil and acrylics on canvas.  Drawing from his own experience, Mr Kiyawat shared some interesting pointers which could have impacted this.  For example, he found guidance from his American art teacher in California more helpful largely because of the simplicity and crispness in her download of information.  Whether it was about specifications of supplies or explaining of techniques, the crispness helped.   Detailed and printed on paper for clarity too.  Read more on what he has to say here .

Ambiguity and casualness which assails most of our spaces could have seeped into art teaching too, yes.  Lack of information?  Or perhaps .. lack of interest to go read more.  The casualty, as he says in his blog too, is that most people give up half way.  He insists it is important to always read up more on whatever one is pursuing.  Like, for instance, an informative read has him framing his paintings with the bottom border a little broader than the other three.  That’s lending an advantage to showcasing, no doubt.

While he ensures he keeps reading, Mr Kiyawat ensures he keeps learning too. He attends classes two days a week to learn and hone his art more.  The Workshops that he organizes with the help of eminent Watercolorists (Milind Mulick of Pune, Sankar Thakur of Delhi) benefit too from his efforts to promote them.

And as Mr Kiyawat goes about pursuing his passion and creating ‘joy’ with his brush and water colors .. it is easy to see where one of his most important inspirations comes from.  The few times we have met .. it has only made me smile that much more.  If it is the radiance of Mrs Kiyawat’s smile .. it is also the quiet of her presence by her husband’s side.   I did speak of vibrancy and tranquillity:).

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The writer with the artist’s wife at the solo show – Triveni, 2010

Mr Kiyawat’s compositions dull out the cacophony of urban living that surrounds us mostly.  The colors happy, the visuals serene and meditative – each painting exudes positivity and peace.   You can hear the rustle of the trees almost as fragrance of the odd blossom reaches you.

No wonder then the joy.

There is a lot of heart, a lot of soul .. and a lot of life that goes into making of any work of Art. It throbs .. and it pulsates.

A conversation with it then .. and its ‘makers’ .. can only be a tryst again.

Manisha Jha .. and her colors of Madhubani Art

Was a balmy September day in 2010 that I had first met Manisha.  She had a show coming up at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre in a few weeks, and it was a lovely afternoon the same winter I spent at her Studio in Mount Kailash as she introduced me to her body of work.

But it was over conversations around the series she was working on for  ‘Celebrating the Feminine’ show the following summer, that I got to know her better.

There is a lot about Manisha that reaches across as you speak with her – the calmness, spontaneity and steadfastness.   A lady collected, and a lady very much there in the moment.  Her eyes sparkle – alive to the moment as she pulls out anecdotes from her journey through life.  Her tinkling laughter has the wholesomeness of having enjoyed and absorbed from each moment of that journey too.

Manisha Jha in her living room .. speaking about an incident from her early painting years

And her canvases capture much of that – the colours, the language and the conversation.

Like any artist, Manisha brings herself to her work.   The depth of cultural richness of Madhubani art.. and the freshness of the contemporary of the urbane woman that she is.  No wonder then the beautiful mix of traditional and folk with the contemporary of present times.

A self taught artist, she and her two sisters learnt from their grandmother and mother as they watched them practice Madhubani art on the floor and walls during festivals.   The family might have moved to Delhi when the girls were little, the roots were still very much in interiors of Bihar – Raghopur, Saharsa Distt in North Bihar where Manisha was born.  The folk .. and the traditional.

And Madhubani became one of the languages of expression.

So, when not studying .. Manisha would be drawing wherever she could – notebooks, paper, cloth.  And canvases.  Soon, the house was a riot of colours – strewn with Madhubani paintings hanging from every wall surface.

Was in 1998, when an elderly neighbor came visiting them in Mount Kailash in Delhi – and was held spellbound by the expanse of Madhubani art he saw in the house.  He insisted they be exhibited for more people to see.  On his behest, Manisha  put together a stack of paintings and went to India International Centre, New Delhi .. who sponsored her first show.  One thing led to another, and the same year she had a show in Goa and Gujarat too .. besides a couple more in Delhi.  Manisha was 18, and among the first artists who brought Madhubani art into the ambit of galleries.

This was just the beginning.

Over the years, Manisha has exhibited and reached Madhubani art to various parts of the country and the world.  As I write this, an excited audience waits for her at New Mexico in the U.S. where she is exhibiting at the International Folk Art Market this July of 2015.

A National Awardee, and many other awards and recognitions from the Government, she has also published numerous papers on the art.  Her works grace various spaces across the world – hotels, galleries and personal collections.

Qualified as an Interior Designer, Architect and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning, her engagement in these areas further adds its own expression to Manisha’s strokes on canvas.

And as she says, her works measure too how she has evolved as a person.  As a woman.  As an entrepreneur .. a designer .. an architect.  And, strong roots in the folk art.  The colors she brings to her canvases is her own conversation with the medium.  And everything comes together in a voice which has a spiritual tenor to it.

Each of her canvases captures that.  Each canvas has a story it tells – its fine lines .. the colors .. and the form.  If the form is traditional .. the colors natural .. there is conversation which reaches across as those lines come together.

Whether it is her ‘Trees of Life’ series, or the works she showcased at ‘India Awakens Under The Banyan Tree’ at Essl Museum, Vienna .. or her expressions on canvas for the ‘Conversations Collaborations Transformations’ show at Visual Arts Gallery – each is a dialogue in time.

At her studio one afternoon, as she walked me through canvases, placement of a tree or a leaf at a particular corner was knowledge and information once explained.  A branch growing in a certain direction had significance.  A buyer friend who bought a ‘Khobar’ from her, was educated on its relevance (along with a brief write-up he could put up along-with) before he took the canvas home.  Those were not just mere strokes on her canvas – there was something it said.

Her Kali, particularly .. held me mesmerised.

‘Kali’ by Manisha Jha

As Manisha evolved and grew through her art .. so did her sense of responsibility towards it.  Here inherent need to keep Madhubani art alive and ticking.  Its beauty to thrive.  And forbear.

To this extent, for a while now, she has been conducting Workshops to bring people closer to Madhubani art – within the country and overseas.  Educating them about various aspects of the art .. and even teaching them the techniques.   The workshops are out of schools sometimes, festivals .. clubs .. galleries .. or standalone forums.  The age ranges from 8 to 80, people from various walks of life .. and each participant walks away richer of the experience and knowledge.  Her comfort with the English language further enables an effective reach across an audience as does her engaging manner.

Manisha runs a Madhubani Art Centre, and also works closely with Madhubani artists (mostly women) in remote areas in Bihar, helping them produce and market their work.  There are hundreds of women who benefit already from this intervention and support.

Mother to two grown boys – studying Engineering – its easy, yes, to see where Manisha’s steadfastness comes from.  Her determination .. and that sparkle in her eyes.  The calmness.  Spontaneity.  And humility.

Her art is her fuel.

And she is giving back much to it too.

And with each new canvas .. she says something more.  Keeping you to your roots .. and giving you branches to flower your imagination.  As does her own imagination,  which takes flight much like those strokes that measure their way on the canvas.  Colors that speak – the bright of the reds .. and restlessness of the green .. or the vibrance of the yellow.

Madhubani – forest of honey.  Yes, if her canvases capture that .. so does Manisha’s own person.