Vignettes of Mumbai come alive in Pune-based veteran artist Saaz Aggarwal's latest works. A family brunch, people resting in a park, a couple finding love near the sea; all familiar images but depicted in style that is not quite commonplace here. These Madhubani style paintings are form her collection Bombay Cliches. The painter, who could not draw as a child, talks about her influences and her journey.
The banker's lunch. Pics courtesy/Saaz Aggarwal
Q. Tell us about what inspired the series Bombay Cliches.
A.The idea was to use simple line strokes to portray the complexity that makes Mumbai an alluring symbol of the realities of the universe: constant movement, relentless expansion, predictable patterns, extremes of all kinds, seemingly precarious but perfectly reliable balance — and continuous change.
Q. How long did it take for the images to accumulate and become the collection?
A. I started working in June 2005 and had my first exhibition of Bombay Cliches watercolours at Bajaj Art Gallery, Nariman Point, in November the same year. In February 2006, I held another exhibition, Love in Mumbai, of acrylics at the Oberoi Hotel gallery, Art Walk. This was a collection of devoted Mumbai couples working and living together oblivious of Valentine's Day. My website came up in 2007 and I had a show every year in Mumbai till 2010. Now, I paint mostly on commission, though when I see something intriguing I tend to rush home and pick up the paints.
Q. What is the thought behind using the Madhubani style?
A.Decades ago, I saw a British Library calendar with Madhubani drawings depicting London and thought how nice it would be to have something like that for Mumbai. Eventually, I realised that if I really wanted them, I'd better get on with it and make some myself.
Q. Tell us about your journey as an artist.
A. As a child, my drawing was so bad that my Biology teacher at times held up my diagrams, which invariably provoked great hilarity in the class. I was more into stitch-craft, designing and executing needlework art, something I still do. In those days, my three children were exceptional artists. Their early exposure came from Marina Dutta, who runs classes in
her home in Colaba, supplemented by books about great artists and visits to art galleries. When they grew older I invited art teacher Mahendra Damle to spend two or three days at a time at our home in Pune during the holidays and give them art workshops. It was Mahendra who brought me a book about Madhubani art in June 2005, explained the difference in fundamental concept between Western art and traditional Indian folk art, and then insisted I paint what I had drawn.
Q. A lot of your work is about Mumbai. What about the city moves you?
A. Even now, nearly 25 years after defecting to more spacious and leisurely lifestyle in Pune, Mumbai is still the city to which for many reasons I feel most connected. Part of the fascination is the complexity of so many different communities inextricably and often incongruously intertwined, coexisting in a fast-moving flux held together by the simple Mumbai parameters of goal-orientation, action-orientation, tolerance for discomfort, and straight talk. When I started working on Bombay Cliches, I saw that my characters were turning out to be calm and self-contained, so caught up in their private worlds that the viewer was quite shut out. It reminded me of the feeling I had when I first arrived, of being an outsider.
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