A heady mix of sexually-charged images and spirituality finds expression in Manu Parekh’s canvases on Varanasi and on pubescent blooms at his exhibition titled Faith at the Harrington Street Arts Centre (till February 9). Being Manu Parekh, even the shrines of that most sacred town on the banks of the Ganga are not devoid of what can be best described as perfervid eroticism as the sky is painted a vivid blue or red with flowers that resemble Catherine wheels doing a free fall. The skyline is jagged with the broken outlines of the shrines dominating it.
Parekh also conceives of Varanasi in terms of cosmic geometry as he depicts the holy city yantra fashion, with shrines on both sides of the horizon and the yoni at the epicentre being energized by the divine seed. The molten colours are hot red and yellow. The artist, who had spent a good many years of his youth in Calcutta, imagines Varanasi in dramatic terms — the drama of vibrant pigments bright and dark that often verges on the lurid, and forms that could loosely be termed as archetypal. For although Parekh is himself a contemporary artist, what he evokes — the deities glowing amidst a tangle of lines or the sanctum sanctorum covered with flowers and lamps — existed there from time immemorial. He, of course, sweeps out all the clutter and retains only the essence.
Parekh’s earlier paintings of this city — identified with Mahadev — however, were something else. They had nothing florid about them for he seemed to be more interested in form and geometry than in colour then. Lines dominate his paintings of both periods, but earlier these were jagged and angular tracing the structures of whatever he surveyed, and the colours were dark and sombre — deep reds and browns. There was something quite primitive about the craggy forms in these paintings done in 1985, almost as if Cubism met Expressionism here. He painted with greater passion then and his images were bare, stripped of all extraneous elements. One wonders if the artist had much faith then. The blaze of the marigold and lamps is missing, and darkness dominates the canvases.
Parekh’s flower paintings and drawings are most striking. Flowers from heaven he may call them, but their erotic content overshadows the otherwordly elements, if any there be. There can be no doubt about this in the way he depicts these hairy appendages with delightfully off-colour excrescences. These grossly tumescent blooms, sometimes endowed with twinkling eyes, come alive in his charcoal drawings on canvas, where they thrive like weeds that have grown all over a neglected backyard. Parekh comes into his own here. He feels at home in their venereal presence.