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Artist Profile1
Philosophy, processes and influences of India’s foremost artist
One of the internationally celebrated and acknowledged contemporary Indian artists, Anjolie Ela Menon, has carved a niche for herself with an inimitable artistic approach and ability. The vast body of work that she has produced signifies her aversion to compartmentalization. She does not relish being fitted into a specific category, method or style, always keen to develop a mode of self-expression based on constant experimentation.

When you wish to present the artworks of such a dynamic practitioner par excellence, with an engaging oeuvre, it can indeed be quite a task. The Institute of Contemporary Indian Art chairman, Vickram Sethi, successfully took it up and collated a show of around 45 paintings done by her during an illustrious career – right from 1970 until now. Incidentally, the renowned artist was back in Mumbai, her home for a significant period of time after a long ‘hiatus’. Expressing her sentiments, she told Debarati S Sen of TNN that it was wonderful for her to have an exhibit at ICIA after several years. Elaborating on her thought processes and philosophy, she stated: “I think in color, I paint directly on to the canvas without drawing. I do draw; the drawings are separate. While doing a large work in oils, it kinds of paints itself. One area leads to another. If you’re drawing, the work tends to become more stilted more as though it has come out of a drawing board rather than coming out of the artist’s emotions and spontaneity.”

Many of the works showcased were done in the city by her so it was a sort of nostalgic feeling for her. The organizers sourced them from different collectors, encompassing a span of almost four decades. It was a fulfilling experience for the master artist to sift through her own creations and rewind the time clock. She was quoted as saying: “I’ve a long association with Vickram Sethi going very often to art camps held by the gallery. And each year it’s very refreshing to be back here. My husband has been in the navy. We all have spent most of our lives near the sea and as I leave the airport I’ve a sort of particular whiff of Mumbai and my heart gladdens.”

Born in 1940 in Burnpur in the state of West Bengal, she did her Bachelors in Literature from Delhi University, and was at Atelier Fresque, Ecole Nationale des Beaux Art, Paris (1959-61).

Writing about her first show in 1958 in New Delhi, art critic Richard Bartholomew had predicted that the gifted young woman would soon be among India's very best painters. His perceptive prophecy about her has been vindicated by the path-breaking pieces of art done over close to half a century.

Among her selected solo shows are 'Through the Patina' courtesy Vadhera Art Gallery at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Delhi (2010); ‘Menongitis-Three Generations Of Art’, Dhoomimal Gallery, Delhi (2007); ‘Celebration’, Gallery ArtsIndia West, Palo Alto (2006); ‘Gods and others’, Apparao Galleries at Admit One Gallery, New York (2000); ‘Mutations’ courtesy The Gallery, Madras, at Wallace Galleries, New York (1996); ‘Retrospective 1958-88’ at Jehangir gallery, Mumbai apart from earlier shows at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai (1976), Alliance Francaise, Mumbai (1963), and Gallery 59, Mumbai (1959).

Her work has been featured at several group exhibitions like 'Edge of Reason- and beyond, into pure creativity' at Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi (2013); 'Talking Heads', Art Alive Gallery, Delhi; 'Iconic Processions', Aicon Gallery, New York; 'Women: Sacred and the Temporal', Shrishti Art Gallery, Hyderabad (all in 2012); ‘Unclaimed Spaces', Gallery Threshold, Delhi (2009-10); 'Master Class', The Arts Trust, Mumbai (2009, 10); 'Indian Art After Independence', Emile Lowe Gallery, Hempstead (2009); 'Mapping Memories – 2’, Gallery Threshold, Delhi (2008); ‘Reflections and Images’ at Jehangir gallery (1993); among others.

Her recent participations include 'Art for Humanity’ at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai; 'Of Gods and Goddesses, Cinema, Cricket', Jehangir gallery; 'Resonance' at Art Musings, Mumbai; Art Dubai 2010 and ARCO Madrid 2010. Her works also formed part of the Paris Biennale in 1980. She was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India for her artistic achievements. A comprehensive document, titled ‘Anjolie Ela Menon: Through the Patina’ (Publisher: Vadehra gallery), tracks the journey of this celebrated contemporary Indian artist. Presented as a beautiful pictorial illustration and analysis of her rich oeuvre, authored by Isana Murty, incidentally the pen name for renowned defence analyst C Uday Bhaskar, it contains informative essays on her evolution as an artist. Her own collection comprises such impressive names as Souza, Husain, Jamini Roy, Arpita Singh, K.S. Radhakrishnan and Manjit Bawa apart from many younger generation sculptors and painters. Among her collection of Indian works, the one that are particularly special to her include ‘Crucifixion’ by Jamini Roy. She also has a fondness for Russian and Greek religious icons, which have shaped her own perspective in terms of human expression and overall composition.

Anjolie Ela Menon’s mixed-media works as well as oil on masonite paintings have continued to enthrall and intrigue art connoisseurs. The multi-faceted practitioner has also worked in glass, computer graphics and installations in public spaces. She even chose to paint objects sort of retrieved from ‘the junk heap’. She has reminisced: “My art became retrieval. Being a compulsive painter, I had to paint almost every day. So, I started painting objects like chairs, cupboards and suitcases that would get discarded. “I began working with kitsch since I needed to be indigenous.” Indeed, her very individualistic style defies any classification and defines the c crux of her unbounded creativity!