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Manish Nai

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1980, Gujarat, India
Lives and works in Mumbai

Manish Nai is a contemporary Indian Artist. He is primarily known for his abstract arts and installations made out of spare materials found in our daily lives such as used clothes, cartons, newspapers, sponge, aluminum sheets etc. A winner of several international awards, Nai also specializes in jute (burlap) as a medium, which makes him unique among his contemporaries. Ironically the year he graduated his father lost his jute business. He now lives and owns three workshops in Borivali, Mumbai.



Diploma in Drawing and Painting, L.S. Raheja School of Art, Mumbai

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Manish Nai has humble yet early star

Manish Nai is barely 35 but he has already been in the scene for a long time. In the last 15 years or so, he has firmly established himself as one of the foremost practitioners of mix-media abstract art in India and has also won several international awards including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award in 2004-2005. However, his beginnings were fairly modest. Born in Gujarat in 1980, Nai had a modest childhood. Traditionally the family hailed from the Barber community. But his family ventured out and his fathered choose to trade in jute. However Manish had a different bent and pursued artistic ambitions right from the beginning.

His school did not have much scope but thankfully his family was supportive and encouraged him to pursue his dreams. They were not very well-off and so he learnt to take care of his needs from a very early age. As a student, during his holidays he worked at a salon of his relatives and saved money to buy material for his art. During those times, he also started to earn from landscaping work for independent clients. More often than not, his work used to be so good that the clients purchased them immediately.

On the other hand, his father’s jute business also gave him the unconventional idea of using jute as a medium. This also shaped is career in a way as he started using such spare material that one could find at homes and workshops to create interesting art. Be it old clothes or newspapers or even pieces of sponge used for packaging in business, all became mediums for his art.

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2011, sponge

There is a level of accessible sophistication in his oeuvre

While complexity is inherent in abstract art, Nai makes it accessible for a wider audience by the very usage of day to day material and subjects. His colourful patterns are easily distinguishable and allow the viewers to have their own interpretations. Nai has spent most of his life in the crowded and congested Mumbai. The “Maximum City” has had a deep impact on him and it is hardly a surprise. He draws heavily from urban scenes around him but he also keeps himself connected to the natural world with his rigorous conceptualizations.

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2014, used clothes, 180.3 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm (each)

He experiments with a variety of mediums

Nai started mainly with watercolours during his education at L.S. Raheja School of Art, Mumbai. But as his work grew more and more abstract, he soon started to explore other mediums to express his visions. He had secured admission into the prestigious JJ School of Art too. But he found the theoretical and academic pursuits very frustrating and only wanted to focus on his art. So, he came back to his old school to finish his course. He slowly moved to large diptychs and installations made of everyday materials. Inspired by Arte Povera movement, he chose to work with items of day to day use, such as old newspapers, cartons, clothes, aluminium sheets and sponge to create truly original artworks.

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2012, used clothes, 7.4 X 7.4 X 7.4”

An affair with Jute

Majority of his works in recent times have been with jute and canvas. He uses other materials like used clothes and newspaper but jute or burlap gives him a unique identity. As mentioned before, he has been able to create this unique niche due to his familiarity with jute from his father’s trade. He mostly pastes pieces of jute on a canvas base to create these artworks. He applies transparent colour and they do not look much different from other canvas works from a distance. However, closer inspection reveals the incredible details of his patterns that play mind games with the viewers and make them question their own cognition.

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2014, dyed jute

His art is abstract yet expressive

Nai’s work is remarkable as he focuses more on the process rather than a single image or installation. It is visible in all his works. Whenever one sees his works, one does not only think what they mean but also thinks how they must have been created. It is simply because they are not straightforward like a conventional painting or sculpture. Considering his choice of materials, it is very difficult to imagine how he comes up with these ideas in the first place and how they were even implemented.

He plays with textures, lights, shadows, surface, depth and other contrasting elements. He uses all three dimensions and employs even empty spaces along with shapes and thickness of his materials to make his point. As a matter of fact, he finds conventional two dimensional canvases to be too limiting and this shows in his creations where the shapes and sizes can take unexpected patterns too once they are released from their moulds.

Manish Nai, Untitled, 2008, jute collage over gateway tracing paper and jute cloth