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Manu Parekh

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1939, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Lives and Works in New Delhi

Manu Parekh is a prolific artist who has made considerable contributions to Indian Modern Art. His paintings employ visual drama to explore human interaction with nature. In 1992, he was awarded with a Padmashree. Over the last decade he has made numerous works about the city of Banaras and lives in New Delhi with his wife Madhavi Parekh.



Diploma in Drawing & Painting, Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai


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Banaras : An unshakeable muse for the artist

Manu Parekh is one of the most celebrated modernist artists in the history of Indian art, and his early works about Banaras play a compelling role in the growth of the Modernist school.

Banaras is one of India's most coveted pilgrimage sites. Scores of Hindus troop down every year to bathe there in the river Ganges in an attempt towash their sins clean. It is also believed that dying in Banaras allows the soul to break the cycle of rebirth. Parekh's obsession with Banaras began thirty years ago, just after he moved to Delhi from Kolkata. He found himself in a difficult phase, where he was struggling to create artworks. To fill the void of inspiration he decided to visit Banaras, and has never stopped going there since. The Banaras series is a symbolic rendering of the relationship between faith and fear, a dynamic, which Parekh identifies as uniquely Indian. Painted in the Indian Expressionist style, these works form a major body of his works in the past decade.

Interestingly, Parekh never painted in situ. In fact, he says in an interview, that he never paints in Banaras. "I stroll around; absorb the city and then head back home to pick up my brush. " Instead of making any notes or sketches, he prefers to let his impressions of the city engulf him and get internalized before he later attempts to recreate them. As opposed to the common associations made with the city of Banaras, like beggars, funeral pyres and ghats swarming with pilgrims,Parekh ironically presents his beloved city through canvases full ofunruly natural landscapes of untamed vegetation, populated by earthy figures of sexuality and brutality. The houses and temples seem to lean at an angle, almost caricaturing the originals. To create such riveting landscapes, Parekh uses the technique of visual drama, which he learned during his tryst with theatre back in Kolkata.

Manu Parekh, Banaras in Red, 2006,oil on Canvas.

Manu Parekh, Evening in Banaras, oil on canvas,177x 121".

'Organic life' and its importance in Parekh's works

Most of Manu Parekh’s paintings are based on the simple yet significant process of human interaction with nature. Organic elements like flowers, for instance are central to his works. They have a powerful energy that transcends their traditional, functional roles as religious offerings in temples, or just decorations. According to Parekh, a flower has“…seemingly contradictory forces inherent within it: [such as] sexuality and spirituality.

While playing around with the same motifs in his paintings over the years, Parekh’s portrayals of flowers in a recent exhibition titled ‘Faith’, at Art Alive Gallery, Gurgaon reached new heights. As explained before, he has attempted to explore the sexual nature of flowers and their erotic impact on human beings. He is quoted as saying that they become, ‘ erotically charged beings…that travel from the heads of gods to rest upon a dead body. ’ But the sexuality is of a subtle nature, coyly presented in flowers shaped like yonis, phallic shapes and expressive eyes staring nakedly at the viewer. For Parekh, the sexual undertones of these new works are about reaching out to the viewer on a spiritual plane and there is a thin line between the two dimensionalities. “Even when you pray, you want to reach out and touch God ,” he says. His paintings are all about elevating the experience of nature, and showing vivid and dramatic depictions of the sky, temples, expressions of the eyes, among other things.

Manu Parekh, Flowers from heaven series, No. 1, from exhibition titled ‘Faith’.

Manu Parekh, Flowers, 2011, acrylic on canvas.

He uses the theatrical element to enliven his works

While looking at Parekh's work the viewer needs to engage with it for a few seconds before the layers start to reveal themselves. Parekh admits to using theatre language to achieve such an effect. Just as the curtain rises on stage, the painting slowly unravels before the viewer.He says, that one should take a few moments to realize the situation and the energy or contradictory forces reflected in his works. Particularly referring to the Banaras series, Parekh confirms that his early experience with theatre helped him to create these works. Highlighting the human element by pointing towards its absence, like the empty boats bobbing at the edge of the rivers is one of the ways in which Parekh channels the dramatic energy of natural landscapes. The grotesque shapes, diversity of subject matter may appear to be disturbing at first, but are actually meant to be layers that capture these contradictory forces of nature.

Manu Parekh, Evening Light, 2009acrylic on canvas, 20 x 24".

Manu Parekh, Remembering Picasso, 2004oil on Canvas, 48 x 60".

Manu Parekh, Evening at Banaras, 2005, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 in