Journey of a lifetime

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jul 11 2010, 05:44am hrs
A compulsive painter, Anjolie Ela Menon is a milestone in the Indian art history. Having spent 55 years as a painter, Menon feels that her future big works (she is also known for her big murals) will have to be done soon as she turns 70 (on July 16). The birthday celebrations will include a solo exhibition and launch of a 380-page book authored by Isana Murti. Titled Anjolie Ela Menon: Through the Patina, the book and the exhibition at Vadhera Art gallery will showcase her works from the late 1950s to the 2000s. The celebrated painter, who loves to cook, travel and look after her large family, shares her love and preference for art in public spaces with Garima Pant. Excerpts:

This is your first solo exhibition in four years. Why such a long hiatus

Every artist needs some time out because I think the struggle of the artist is not what you might imagine. The real struggle is from the transition from one phase of ones work to the next. Otherwise you get stuck in a rut. I have been through many phases in my work, and I think that one needs a little time to recover. Its not all just about the hand. One needs some time for contemplation, for travel, for new influences and experiences to be assimilated. I have deliberately taken around two years of time out from showing, not necessarily from painting. So, my return seems to coincide with the book release. It has taken over three years to compile and be ready. So, it seemed a good time to show some of the works that I have been doing. And also to show lot of the work that supports various chapters of the book. So, we have been able to borrow a lot of work from collectors and family collections.

Your birthday is being marked with a number of activities...a book launch, an exhibition of around sixty works. How does this make you feel as an artist at this juncture of your life

These so-called milestones like birthdays are only symbolic. But it does remind one that one is getting older rather fast. It was just the other day that my 60th birthday was celebrated. Turning 70 is a big milestone. A scary one also, because physically one does get a little more frail. Basically I have been a mural painter and done very big works. And the last time I was on a scaffolding was last year when I was restoring the big mural at the Taj Mahal Hotel. And I didn't wobble on the scaffolding. But I feel if I have to do big works for the future, I better start doing them fast.

You have executed many large murals till date. How do you manage this art form that requires so much of physical endurance

I was basically trained as a fresco painter. It is very difficult to get a commission to do a fresco as it takes a long time, but its always a challenge. What I like about most of the murals that I have done is that these are for public spaces. And as one grows older, one thing that really hits one is that a lifetime of work has disappeared into private collections, whereas the public space work can still be seen by many more people. Now when you tackle a mural, naturally its not as spontaneous as doing a smaller work. You cant be spontaneous on that huge canvas. Though I have seen Hussain Saab doing a mural in a pretty spontaneous manner where he covers ground as no one else can. The other slight disadvantage which has been when you are doing a mural is that you are to a certain extent at the mercy of your patron. I am now working on a 40 feet mural that will be at the new Mumbai airport.

55 years is a long time in the art world. What is it that has kept you going

I am a compulsive painter and that is the only thing that has kept me going. And as I have often said, painting is the core of what I do and what I am. All the rest is peripheral.

What would you like to focus on after this exhibition

I want to do some more work on public spaces. I've done a big mural for the Kolkata metro, one for the LIC building in Vishakhapatnam, one for the Lucknow Secretariat, which seemed to have disappeared suddenly, which I had done in 1965.

Which has been your best work

There are many works that I would like to possess again. One of them is a window painting from the first window series, done in Bombay that showed a lalaji sitting in a window. It was very photo realist. It had pieces of broken glass. I often wish I had that painting again. And like that there are some reclining nudes which belong to a certain period.