Lost Between the Spider and the Lamp

Some buried memories that blazed through the life of India’s Picasso,MF husain,who died on june 9 last year

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: June 8, 2012 1:36 am

Some buried memories that blazed through the life of India’s Picasso,MF husain,who died on june 9 last year

MF Husain’s interest in art began at a very early age and his grandfather was one of his biggest supporters. During his childhood in Indore,Husain would go to paint landscapes along with artist NS Bendre. At times,he would set out on his bicycle with a packed lunch to paint rural landscapes in watercolours. At night,he would copy the works of European painters.

Husain was also briefly educated at a madrassa in Baroda,where he learnt how to write poetry.

A sports enthusiast,Husain was good at football,hockey and tennis when he was young.

In his early days in Mumbai,Husain earned money by painting cinema hoardings. The need to earn more led him to take up other jobs,including working in a toy factory.

Husain’s first solo exhibition was held in Mumbai in 1952 and his first international solo exhibition was held at Zurich in the same year.

He was an employee at the real-estate firm,DLF,at a starting salary of Rs 800 in the ’60s. That is when he made several paintings for the company. DLF founder and chairman,KP Singh,dedicated the company’s annual report for 2010-11 to Husain.

His student Rasha Siddiqui,who went on to become his friend,muse and companion,told a journalist that she met Husain where he used to buy khichdi for five paise,which he could afford only once a day.

When Indira Gandhi became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the mid-60s,she selected Husain to make a film titled Through the Eyes of a Painter. Shot in Rajasthan,the movie won a Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival.

Several Husains in the late hotel tycoon TRS Tikki Oberoi’s collection were reportedly a gift from the artist. They were a trade-off for the room Oberoi gave Husain at the Maidens Hotel in the ’60s.

Husain abandoned footwear in 1974,ever since he walked barefoot to Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi to bid a final farewell to Hindi poet Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh.

Husain’s popularity grew in the ’70s. His buyers included Badri Vishal Pitti,the Hyderabad-based businessman for whom he did more than 100 paintings,to Chester Herwitz,a handbag tycoon from Boston.

Husain was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. The renderings of his stint in the Parliament were published in a large format sketch book titled Sansad Upanishad.

In 1986,he designed the home of Renu Modi,director,Gallery Espace,and also experimented with interiors and furniture.

In the mid-90s,Kolkata-based industrialist GS Srivastava struck a deal for 125 Husain paintings for Rs 100 crore — not for the love of art but as good investment.

After the shooting of his film Gaja Gamini was wrapped up in 2000,Husain cut the painted sets and distributed them among spot boys and other junior professionals.

His autobiography MF Husain Ki Kahani Apni Zubani (2002) included notes collated by Rasha Siddiqui from Husain’s scribblings on tissues,old envelopes,bills and so on.

Despite the fact that he was always the barefoot artist,he endorsed a shoe brand called Joy Shoes. Its store in the shopping arcade of Taj Mahal Hotel,Mumbai,was redesigned by him in 2004.

Whenever Husain stayed in a hotel,he used to spread his canvases on the floor and in case the floor got damaged in any manner,he would pay for the damages while checking out.

He painted several women but most of their faces were featureless,especially those in a sari. The reason,as the artist put it once,his mother died when he was one-and-a-half years old and he could never recall her face. All he could remember was a sari-clad silhouette.

When Nagesh Kukunoor made Iqbal in 2005,Husain was so impressed that he made black and white paintings of the film,with just a hint of colour,and showcased them at Cinema Ghar in Hyderabad.

MF Husain,by Arpana Caur

A year ago,when India lost MF Husain — its most known contemporary artist — Arpana Caur visualised an installation as a tribute to him. She shares her vision exclusively with Talk on the occasion of Husain’s first death anniversary tomorrow.

Caur says:

In the history of Indian art,he was the only artist who was driven into exile. After his demise last year,I visualised an installation as a tribute to him. It is based on Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s words,“Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein”. Husain,too,died outside his home country,one that he loved. The sketch was a blueprint of the installation. It was ideated as a 6.5 x 3.5 feet piece of glass screwed on the ground. A two-feet deep flat pit would have been dug and a cloth would be suspended with three colours in diagonal spray paint with Husain’s black and white portrait in the middle. On each corner,a battery-operated lantern would be placed,since that was one of Husain’s favourite motifs.

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