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Madhvi Parekh

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1942, Sanjay, Gujarat, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Madhvi Parekh’s art is full of pictorial renditions of her memories and surroundings. Lacking a background education in Art techniques has not proved to be a setback for the artist as she experiments with compositions and subject matter more freely. Religion plays a crucial role in her works. Madhvi started painting in 1964, and she currently lives in New Delhi with her husband Manu Parekh.


Self-taught artist

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Spontaneity and expressionism in her works

There is an element of liberation in almost all of Madhvi's works. Her subjects have spontaneity in them as she never pre-plans and paints whatever appeals to her. Her themes represent different aspects of life, as she encounters them and interestingly her compositions are quite flexible. Madhvi was not trained in an art school but that does not mean that she has no exposure to the world of modern art or to materials and techniques. Unspoilt by training she avails herself of all the possibilities of expression.

In her watercolours she uses transparent layers of lighter colours to create darker effects and to bring out the pain in them. In her oil paintings, the dots remind us of children and adults going round and round in circles. Men, women and children have a deep curiosity on their faces. With eyes wide open, they look at mountains, animals, birds and houses. In another scenario, people enjoying diverse pleasures move about fearlessly in the jungle. They are not scared of the animals because the animals too move about like them. The train moves on passing through different stations. Three such panels have been joined together to form the Evening in Tungnath series.

Watching these paintings is liberating for a viewer, as he or she feels free to draw his own interpretations. She paints what everybody can understand. There is no grand vision, but there is a story, a narrative that makes these works engaging. Animals Walking Up and Down a Staircase, makes you realise that we or most of the world does not put the real story in our heads on canvases or sheets.

Madhvi Parekh, Animals Walking Down a Staircase, 2008, reverse painting on acrylic sheet, 36' X 36''

Is it Child Art or Folk Art?

In most discussions, questions are raised whether her art is a form of 'child art' or 'folk art'. General confusion has ensued regarding the nature of her depictions, and whether it is similar to art made by children or traditional folk art. But features of art such as ones expressions, beliefs and practices, which provide a stylistic certainty to individual genres, is not found in child art. Again she might have developed her own language of expression from memories of her childhood, but she lends strength and complexities to it through layers of playing around with the thoughts and feelings attached with them- an element absent in folk art.

Madhavi Parekh, The Staircase, 1996, oil on canvas, 36 x 48".

Madhvi Parekh, Untitled, 1989, oil on canvas, 48 x 71.8 in.

Iconization of subjects is seen very often

She uses iconized images of herself as the central character in several individual works to build a continuous narrative of her life. They keep recurring, in the centre-stage, or floating across the landscape, sometimes framed or at times making their presence felt through their absence. Same characters in the form of objects, animals, birds with transparent bodies, smiling snakes heads, torsos, trees and buildings keep recurring in her works. When reused in different contexts in different paintings, they continuously challenge the observation powers of the viewer.

Madhavi Parekh, Kalia Daman (Serpent King), oil on canvas, 5 x 10”.

Depictions are reminiscent of her memories and surroundings

She has worked out an effective language of expression which now comes naturally to her. She depicts her childhood memories through her paintings, where images of early days are spilled over her entire work, which lends it a surreal, dreamlike quality. She draws circles and squares, and then attaches limbs to them, drawing figures from her village. Staircases are reminiscent of an accident she met with when she fell from the stairs.

As a child, she was enthralled by the setting sun and how it would set the whole world on fire, bathing it in a shimmering golden glow. The dotted lines in her paintings come from the running stitches used in embroidery which she used to do as a child. She incorporates her folk art sensibilities into subjects that are drawn from her personal experiences. Her visit to Bhutan, travelling through vast open spaces, surrounded by mountains and terrains inspired her. The trip changed her colour palette to subtler hues and infused the need of space.

Madhavi Parekh with one of her works in The Last Supper series.

Religion served as a major source of inspiration

Madhavi Parekh's childhood was spent in a small village where people celebrated all festivals, including Christmas. The image of Christ always remained as important to her as Durga and Kali. She nurtured a fascination for Biblical tales as they reminded her of the stories in hindu sastras and about miracles. For example, she learnt a story about a boatman who believed that Jesus saved them from drowning. It inspired her. During her travels abroad, to Paris, London, Greece, Mexico, Moscow, Israel, Egypt - wherever she went there were churches in vibrant colours and styles. She found them very peaceful as compared to mandirs. In mandirs there is a lot of noise, the sound of the bells and gongs, whereas in churches, people are quietly reading prayer books and praying. She also found the idea of confession very appealing, and all this left a lasting impression on her.

After visiting the Holocaust museum in Israel Madhavi found the experience very upsetting and disturbing. Soon after she visited a small, peaceful church. It seemed the exact opposite of all the hatred and atrocity she had just witnessed. The image of Jesus and the form of the cross attracted her. She started drawing Christ, the Last Supper and understood the importance of that last meal together. In her version, Jesus and his twelve disciples are seated across a table, not in Leonardo da Vinci's classical style, but rather in a traditional Indian folk style. Eyes wide, the figures are asymmetrical and da Vinci's grand and solemn backdrop is replaced by colourful curtains and a smiling sun and moon.

Madhavi Parekh, KALI, 2005, oil on canvas, 36 x 60”.

Madhavi Parekh, The Last Supper, 2010, a series of reverse paintings on acrylic.