At the age of seven, Paresh Maity recalls being intrigued by artisans in his hometown Tamluk in West Bengal. He carefully observed them sculpting idols of Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi before the Durga Puja and Saraswati puja festivities. Seated next to them, he designed his own clay toys — pigeons, peacocks, snakes and birds. Soon, he graduated to watercolours, painting the water bodies and boats in his village. “Watercolour is a challenging medium. There is no room for rectification. Either you succeed or fail,” says Maity, who is holding a retrospective of his watercolours, including the earliest ones that he had painted as a 10-year-old, in the exhibition “Paresh Maity: World of Watercolours” at Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi.
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The display includes his paintings of the gondolas, depicting the night time view around the waterfront in Venice, the temple tops of Banaras against a sea of black paint under the night sky, the deserts of Rajasthan, the backwaters of Kerala and the beaches of Goa. “At the age of 16, my ambition was to make the best paintings in the world and I want to continue to do so till my last breath,” says Maity, 52, a postgraduate in art from College of Art, Delhi.
While in some watercolours he uses Chinese brushwork, a few early works appear like primary school drawings, with the close-up of a brinjal and pumpkin in Still Life, and a 1980 work Before Eating, where a cut watermelon rests besides a coconut shell. Going through the old works was also nostalgic for the artist. “I had painted the red toy train nestled in Summer Hill in Shimla and Japan’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji, as a child. Five years ago, I was in front of Mount Fuji, painting the landscape. Later, I would also often visit Shimla to paint Summer Hill. It is funny. Life always comes full circle,” says Maity.
With over 79 solo shows to his credit, many of Maity’s works are in the collection of the British Museum and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi. His 800-feet long painting adorns a wall at the T3 terminal of Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, and his clients include Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, the Birla family and Sonia Gandhi.
Success did not come easily though. He had to fight against his father, a government clerk, who wanted him to pursue engineering or medicine. Unable to afford a rented accommodation when he was pursuing his graduation at Government College of Art & Craft in Kolkata, he would spend close to eight hours commuting from Tamluk to the college, stepping out at 6 am everyday. “I would never miss a class. The awards and scholarships I received helped me complete my studies,” says Maity. He stands next to a watercolour depicting a river and a boat, that have appeared numerous times in his work. “A boat is never stagnant. Even if it is anchored, it moves with the waves. Likewise, I feel the world is moving and my paintings should also move,” says the artist.