Over a career spanning four decades, Paresh Maity has made a name for himself as one of India’s most prolific and talented artists. As he celebrates 40 remarkable years in the industry through a travelling exhibition, HELLO! delves deep into his inspirations and the diligence that brought him success.
As a bright-eyed seven-year-old, artist Paresh Maity was awestruck when he saw artisans bringing enormous goddess idols to life ahead of Durga Pujo, in his native town of Tamluk in West Bengal. Drawn to this beautiful act of creation, he intrinsically knew he wanted to be an artist.
“I had no exposure to art while growing up. My father was a humble government clerk and emphasised greatly on education. Even though I did well academically as a child, my single-minded focus was on art, and I’d quietly and secretly pursue this hobby on my own, by joining the artisans building the pandals,” Maity recollects.
“I distinctly remember an incident that made me strive to improve my art. When I was around 13 and studying at Hamilton High School, a new municipality building had opened in the town. To mark the occasion, they organised an art competition for all the students. I didn’t have any art supplies, but my friends shared theirs with me.
I remember copying a visual from a Bengali story in a textbook, and that painting was adjudged one of the last! That became a turning point for me, and I dedicated all my time to art from then on. I didn’t rank below first or second in a single local competition since then,” he smiles.
When Maity realised that one could make a career as an artist, he focussed all his energy on achieving this goal, even though his first-division matriculation marks (a rare feat in those days), made his father insist that he pursue engineering or medicine. Things came to a head soon, when in a dramatic gesture, Maity ran away from home, first to Howrah Station and then to Delhi, where he hoped to join the famed Delhi College of Art.
But it wasn’t until many years later, once he had proved his mettle to his family — by scoring an admission at the prestigious Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata, and had numerous solo viewings of his works at India’s best-known galleries — that Maity finally joined the art school in Delhi.
“I was once asked what my greatest award had been throughout my artistic career. I had said it was being admitted to Delhi College of Art in the 90s. It had seemed like the cycle that had begun when I was a child was completed when this happened.”
“Back then, Delhi was blooming with art and culture. There were so many galleries and theatre groups coming up. Fashion and art were on the rise. It was a wonderful experience to be part of it all. That was also the period I started travelling, and this reflected in my art. My visits to Rajasthan infused vibrant colour in my works, and my trips to Europe influenced my early art, which was quite abstract.”
The fact that Maity lives and breathes his art is evident both in his colourful personality as well as his vast expanse of mixed-media work, which ranges from paintings and sculptures to textiles, installations and films. To mark 40 years of his prolific artistic career, he recently launched his grandest project till date — a multi-city travelling exhibition titled ‘Infinite Light’.
Explaining the intent behind it, he says: “As a child, I realised that light is the most essential part of this world. In every form of art, you will see that light plays the most vital role, without which you can’t see anything. There’s nothing without light.”
The exhibition, set to take place over a span of four months, opened in Delhi last November with Art Alive Gallery, before moving to Mumbai with Art Musings. It will next be on display at Kolkata’s CIMA and Bengaluru’s Gallery Sumukha. An apt celebration of the artist’s multifaceted oeuvre, the showcase varies in scale from small yet incredibly detailed paintings of Venice to massive installations capturing the stark imagery of the ghats of Varanasi, with painted textiles serving as masts of large wooden boats.
Eye-catching drawings on paper, striking ceramic structures and a short film are other items on display. Interestingly, only a few select pieces are on show at each travelling exhibit, while the majority of them change as per the city’s display.
“Putting it all together was a logistical nightmare!” Maity recalls, unwittingly sharing a glimpse into his observational skills, keen eye for detail and meticulous nature. “I spent the entire period of the pandemic planning this exhibit, travelling from one place to another. I had to envision the showcases differently for each location because they were so distinctive.
For example, in Delhi, part of the exhibit was outdoors, and in Mumbai, I had access to these huge, abandoned film studios, so I could play with the lighting and other elements to bring out the best of these works.”
Maity is an artist in every sphere of life. His home and studio are well-known for their bespoke design, and his sartorial sense is unique and flamboyant. He cuts a distinguished figure in well-tailored suits paired with interestingly coloured shirts, gorgeous tribal jewellery, vibrant sneakers and a stylish beret to tie it all together.
He designs his clothing using fabrics he’s picked from around the world during his travels, and he often collects many of his accessories from different parts of India as a tribute to the country’s wondrous craft traditions.
“There are seven wonders in the world, but India has 700 wonders or more! We have beauty, colour, interesting people and stunning places. I’m inspired by everything and also collect all kinds of beautiful objects, including worksof other artists.”
Another passion of Maity’s — starkly evident in his work — is his love of travel. But he adds a caveat: “I travel a lot, but all my travels are work related. Even if I go on vacation, I always carry my materials with me, and you will find me sketching or painting with watercolours at some point in the day for sure.”
This level of discipline evades most, especially those with a creative bent of mind. But it’s Maity’s diligence that sets him apart. He narrates another incident from his early days to prove this true.
“There’s no shortcut in life; hard work is essential. One day, when I was around 10 or 11, I was working along with the other karigars in Tamluk to make an idol for a pandal. A passerby stopped and asked me why I was so painstakingly crafting the backside of the idol because no one ever sees it from behind. I responded saying, ‘One person will see it — God. And that’s always been the mantra I’ve followed.”
A mantra each of us can emulate — both in work and in life.
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s January 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!