The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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MF’s number game at 88

With Maqbool Fida Husain it is impossible to determine if he is playing tricks with the press, the galleries that would be happy to display whatever he produces and promotes as high art, and with the public that loves to fall for his gimmicks.

But Husain seems to be innocent of such ploys, and when asked if his latest plan to celebrate his 88th birthday on August 2 at Galerie 88 with a travelling exhibition of 88 oil paintings could not be interpreted as such, he comes up with something vague on how numerology fascinates him, and how those who may brand his plan as a conceit are actually displaying their ignorance.

After the great Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, there has hardly been any critic with a vision of history, he explains without being drawn into any kind of argument that could ruffle his spirit. Husain has to keep his cool if he wants to look as good as he does at his age. So, whatever the question, platitudes are what you get. You wonder if he has a speechwriter who supplies him with his pat replies.

Togged up in smartly elegant beige, with his feet neatly shod and wielding a huge brush like a magic wand, he could be a fashion plate. For the last 40 years, he says, he has been painting in acrylic and now he has reverted to oils. Like a musician who doesn’t mind performing in public, he painted 22 oils in each gallery spending 10 days in each — Pundole in Mumbai, Vadhera in Delhi, Galerie 88 in Calcutta and a rented studio near the Louvre in Paris. The oils will travel to New York, Paris and London.

He says it was a great experience working in four different cities. His latest film, Tale of Three Cities, is about Jaisalmer, Hyderabad and Prague. It releases in September. “The subject was colour. Colour is the strength of Indian painting. I was sculpting with colour. Exploring colour structure like Matisse. Picasso knew nothing of colour, only form,” he says.

He says he took metaphors of the East and placed them on a Western base. “I tried to demolish the vanishing point. I don’t say I have achieved it,” he says. At least the man, once called the Barefoot Badshah of the Indian art mart, has the humility to admit it.

Does he come anywhere near achieving it' Even to the untrained eye, the latest crop does not look very different from his earlier work. The colours come strong and he is a master of executing a drawing with a flurry of casual strokes. But honestly, little besides that. Save his masterly self-portrait. You leave feeling you had been shadow-boxing in the dark.

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