Updated: April 1, 2021 7:50:47 pm
Artist Nilesh climbed to the top of a water tank in Karjat a few weeks ago and watched people — crowds at the bus stop, women at home, and children in schools. He dedicated a series of artwork to them — life-size portraits of Jijabai, Ahilyabai Holkar and Savitribhai Phule — made on the face of the water tank, 70 feet high. The artist hopes that when people look at these legends, they will be inspired. He is making 15 such paintings at public spaces across Karjat as part of a project supported by local MLA Rohit Pawar.
“When I make paintings of great people, I want everybody to see them. The legends of history should not be restricted to books,” he says. A number of walls in Pune bear Nilesh’s signature as the artist strives to acquaint people with their past.
At a wall of the College of Engineering Pune, he created a mural of Sir Visvesvaraya in four hours to remember the statesman who had studied at this institute. A mural of Balasaheb Thackeray is present at the leader’s birthplace, Sadashiv Peth. Large works of Shivaji, too, remind the people of Pune that the warrior was born in the city.
“One of the outcomes of working in a studio or gallery is that only some people get to see a work. Public art is accessible to everybody, from a beggar to a connoisseur,” he says.
Nilesh was introduced to art on his way to school in Solapur, where painters made hand-made posters of films starring Amitabh Bachchan and other stars of the era. He used to stand and stare at the billboards.
“After I finished school, my family insisted I get a government job. I tried to explain that I was not interested but they did not understand. There was only one thing I could do — at the age of 18, I ran away from home and came to Pune, the city where MF Husain once worked and painted film posters in. I began to assist a signboard painter and also completed a four-year course in drawing,” he says.
His father did not talk to him for five years. “It was only after I worked on a mural of Dadasaheb Phalke in Mumbai, for non-profit organisation St+art India, which Bachchan inaugurated, that my father was impressed with my work,” says Nilesh.
For several years, he made paintings on canvas but the wall was calling him with its unlimited potential to convey messages about history and social concerns. Recently, when the Australian bush fires were raging and the Amazon forests was covered in flames, Nilesh drew attention to global warming and climate change on a wall in Wagholi by making a 25- foot paintings of sparrows.
“When I was in my village, I would see a lot of sparrows but, when I came to Pune, there were barely any. The painting is intended to inform people about the importance of sparrows and the environment,” says the artist whose works can also be seen on the social media platforms of Nileshartist.
As India stands in the middle of the second wave of coronavirus pandemic, Nilesh wants more attention on artists who have been left without work or financial support. “No politician talks about us but the truth is that, if there were no artists, life would lose its colour,” he says.
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