Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Laxman Shrestha: Painting for Penance

Laxman Shrestha, the internationally acclaimed Nepali artist exudes much confidence wherever he goes. So, when he came to Kathmandu on the second week of March, he created quite a ripple among artists and art-lovers. He had been here to showcase the digital versions of his black and white paintings in Siddhartha Art Gallery (The exhibition titled 'elaborations' held in Mumbai's Pundole Art Gallery).

In terms of introduction, Laxman needs no elaboration. With a long, silky hair (he looks like a rock artist), a distinguished smile, his words carefully chosen, this soft spoken artist is a cut above his contemporary artists. In India (Mumbai, where he spends most of his creative times), it is said that only MF Hussein can be compared with him.

But, the strides he made in his career spanning more than four decades are not without struggles. Though, he now divides his time between New York, Paris and Mumbai, his journey began from a small village in Siraha district. He says he embarked on a quest of truth. "I found it in art," he says, "Therefore, painting for me is a penance."

At a time when he has returned home for a brief stay, Madhesi movement is brewing in his birthplace. I would have asked him this perplexing question of identity politics, had I been able to meet him. But I was not fortunate enough to catch up with him.

I came to know about Laxman after reading a snippet in Outlook magazine three years ago. His name sounded Nepali but I knew next to nothing about him. Then, I was not as Net-savvy as I am now. So, I didn't bother to google him.

He was in Kathmandu in late May 2005. A busy artist, he hardly stayed a couple of days. We three scribes--Dinesh Wagle, Shekhar Kharel and I--rushed to NAFA Art Gallery, Naxal to get a glimpse of this renowned painter. While Dinesh and Shekhar-ji did the questioning, I listened and watched him speak. He attended a program organized for his felicitation. Shekher Kharel wrote a moving profile at Nepal Weekly magazine, which was the only detailed report on Laxman on Nepali media till then.

But, this time around, he was everywhere. He even attended a talk show called Bahas that usually featured politicos. I was wondering how the lawyer-host Indra Lohani (who would grill and probe most of his interviewees) would handle the amazing artist. Nevertheless, he deftly ran the show.

Laxman says he has to literally stop money pouring into his bank account. "I scrutinize the collector, how serious he or she is," he says. But, he never flaunts his wealth. His wife Sumita handles the transaction of this childless couple. His single painting costs one crore Indian rupees. Tatas and Birlas are his clients.

In early 1970 came the moment he was dying for. He received a scholarship to study at Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. To attend this school is every aspiring artist's dream. In Kathmandu as a struggling artist, he told me, he would read Life Magazine at American Centre in New Road to satiate his curiosity in art. "I would learn about Picasso, Braque, Matisse through that magazine," he recalled. He is grateful to his painter-friend VS Gaitonde for introducing him to the vast corpus of Hindu philosophy. These readings imparted in him a sense of spiritualism that is reflected in his artworks.

This 66-year-old artist looks much younger than his age. He told the talk show host, to the latter's utter surprise, he is one of top ten taxpaying professionals in India. Would he return home? "No," he firmly said. But, as an afterthought, he added: " If I'll come here, I will come as an ascetic. I'll live in one of those green hills. They are simply mesmerizing."

Mesmerizing like his artworks, I guess.

A more detailed piece at ECS Nepal.

Related Blog: browse my post on veteran Nepali artist Kiran Manandhar
Laxman's pic credit: Chandra Shekhar Karki


hem acharya said...

I have been to his art exhibition in Mumbai.. i supposed he was a nepali origin migrated to india..

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