Madhvi Parekh is a Delhi-based artist, whose paintings speak with warm and vibrant tones. Her oeuvre is a blend of childhood memories, women’s craft, folk art and myths, expressed through a contemplative, modern style.
Parekh was born in Sanjaya, a village near Ahmedabad, in 1942, to a Gandhian postmaster and school teacher. In 1957, the 15-year-old married the artist Manu Parekh and shifted to many cities – Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. Though Parekh had no formal training, she was inspired by her husband. The Swiss-German Paul Klee, and the Italian, Francesco Clemente, were artistic influences.
In the 1960s, she began to paint widely. The vibrant, kaleidoscopic colors of her childhood gave bounce and life to her work. “In the village, every season is full of festivities. Those memories are still fresh in my mind, wherever I go – even to New York. I still feel like my village is the best.”
She was spiritually inspired by Durga, Shakti and Kaliadaman. “Durga and Kali puja were very influential,” she says. “I found it very beautiful.”
Maturing With the Years
Parekh studied Fine Arts in Paris from 1970-72 through a scholarship. Since then, her work, constructed through five decades, was sent to international exhibitions. In 1979, she received the National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi. Parekh completed a Residency fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She also got the Whirlpool Women’s Achievement Award in Fine Arts, in 2003. “I have traveled everywhere all over the world. It reflects in my paintings,” she confesses.
Since 1972, she displayed a hundred solo and group shows, including ‘Last Supper’ in Kolkata 2011 and two sculptures, “Udan Khatolla,” at Mumbai airport, 2013. In 2017, her 45 paintings were shown through a retrospective titled “The Curious Seeker.” It was exhibited at DAG, Delhi, then was shifted to Mumbai in 2018 and New York in 2019.
An Original Style
Parekh took up oil and acrylic media on canvas and water colors on paper. But after five decades, she explains: “I like watercolors, which I find very peaceful and meditative.”
Parekh is considered to be a “folk style modernist,” acting as a bridge between the rural and urban. In her collection, most of her work is based on the kalamkari and pichwai settings. Her paintings speak volumes, with large stories on women and children in rural as well as urban areas. She recalls that she inherited the villagers’ sense of innate behavior – kotha buddhi, or instinctive expression.
But most of her work does not seem to be laid out as a plan. It simply opens in layers, beginning from one point and flowering into broader expanses through her visual narratives. Many imaginary characters appear as figurative, sometimes even abstracted representations in her prints as well as paintings. Her work flows with rhythm but her characters are repeated often. “I just took to free drawing,” she points out. “There was no design about it.”
Parekh is widely appreciated by critics and historians. Her 1971 painting of Kali, holding weapons against a framework of folk icons, actually became a trigger for conversation in 1922, at the Christian Dior fashion ramp in Paris. However, Parekh admits that she never listens to critics of her work too deeply. “That would create confusions and problems,” she quips.
There is a nascent sense of liberation in her work, with the human shown as having broken the shackles of time and mechanics. “I like to break bounds, always do something new,” she reflects. “I work everyday at something different. That makes me feel that I’ve done something productive.”
Her message to youngsters is simple: “Work hard. Work a lot.”
Madhvi Parekh’s work is currently on display at DAG, New York. All images courtesy of DAG
To learn more about artists spotlighted by DAG, check out Devyani Krishna: A Painter of Many Worlds