Marwar - - Contents - Text Anurima Das

Econ­o­mist-turned-painter Nayanaa Kan­odia’s jour­ney is a story of tal­ent, pas­sion and vi­sion. Hav­ing por­trayed In­dia’s cul­ture—past and pre­sent—as no one has done be­fore on such a huge time frame, her work is a vis­ual record for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Econ­o­mist-turned-painter Nayanaa Kan­odia’s jour­ney is a story of tal­ent, pas­sion and vi­sion. Hav­ing por­trayed In­dia’s cul­ture—past and pre­sent—as no one has done be­fore on such a huge time frame, her work is a vis­ual record for gen­er­a­tions to come. We in­ter­acted with the self-taught artist to learn more about her re­mark­able jour­ney.

BRIL­LIANT COLOURIST, NAYANAA KAN­ODIA may be con­sid­ered the pi­o­neer of L’Art Naif in In­dia, a genre un­til then largely un­seen and un­heard of in a con­tem­po­rary con­text. An Eco­nom­ics Hon­ours grad­u­ate and an en­tirely self-taught artist, ex­cept for a year’s ap­pren­tice­ship with cel­e­brated artist An­jolie Ela Menon, she has es­tab­lished a niche for her­self in her cho­sen field. Hav­ing taken French leave from for­mal train­ing, it en­abled her to in­fuse pat­terns of strong in­di­vid­u­al­ism in her work, long be­fore it was con­sid­ered a redefin­ing ap­proach for unique and con­tem­po­rary artists of to­day. This guided Nayanaa Kan­odia to avoid the hi­er­ar­chy of la­bels by the art world such as 'high­brow’ or ‘low­brow' and pre­sent the dy­nam­ics of so­cial re­al­ity in con­crete frames of vir­tu­al­ity.

From dis­ci­pline to framed won­der

“I come from an army back­ground, my fa­ther hav­ing been a bri­gadier in the army,” says Nayanaa Kan­odia. “Dur­ing my child­hood, with each of my fa­ther’s trans­fers, we shifted to a new city. And this was more of­ten than we could pre­dict! I was, there­fore, ex­posed

to many cul­tures, which went on to in­flu­ence my life later. I con­sider my­self lucky to have par­ents who were so broad­minded! I was taught to re­spect all faiths, re­li­gions and, more im­por­tantly, other peo­ple’s view­points. Most peo­ple found this at­ti­tude shock­ing be­cause half a cen­tury back, con­ser­va­tive think­ing was the or­der of the day. I had a very aris­to­cratic and bour­geois up­bring­ing, be­cause both my par­ents came from ex­tremely cul­tured and wealthy fam­i­lies.”

Kan­odia’s fam­ily is from Kanod, Ra­jasthan, (now Ma­hen­dra­garh). Life at home was dis­ci­plined, which she ex­tended to her aca­demic world as well, hav­ing al­ways been a bril­liant and obe­di­ent stu­dent. Punc­tu­al­ity was of paramount im­por­tance and so were du­ti­ful­ness and ethics, and these show am­ply in her cre­ations. Un­der­stand­ably then, she paints such happy scenes and morally strong can­vases. “What I feel is, it is very im­por­tant to look at things, an­a­lyse them and then ap­ply cre­ativ­ity to bring out your artis­tic sig­na­ture,” she says.

Strokes of recog­ni­tion

Kan­odia’s list of achieve­ments is im­pres­sive. In 1998, she was cho­sen (from all Com­mon­wealth coun­tries) by The Com­mon­wealth In­sti­tute for a solo ex­hi­bi­tion to in­au­gu­rate their newly ren­o­vated com­plex in Lon­don. Look­ing at the con­tri­bu­tion she has made to the world of L’Art Naïve, she was in­vited by Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, Lon­don in 2001 to demon­strate her paint­ing tech­niques and ex­hibit her paint­ings in their gallery. She is the first In­dian whose paint­ings fea­ture in the col­lec­tion of Paint­ings in Hos­pi­tals, UK, which was ear­lier listed as a mu­seum. Her works are per­ma­nently dis­played at Musee In­ter­na­tional D’Naif Art in Paris. Im­pressed by the so­cial mes­sages that her paint­ings con­vey, a con­sor­tium of schools in Los Al­tos, USA, has been us­ing her works as a medium of in­struc­tion to its stu­dents. Her paint­ings fea­ture in a re­cently pub­lished book by Rein­hard Fuchs ti­tled Women in Art. They also fea­ture in sev­eral In­dian con­tem­po­rary art auc­tions in­ter­na­tion­ally and find place in pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions all over the world. Col­lec­tors take pride in her paint­ings, a case in point be­ing fa­mous au­thor Erica Jong, who has re­cently ac­quired her work.

So much for her works! As for the lady her­self, she has con­ducted art camps in In­dia and abroad; she has a teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of two decades and is on the fac­ulty of Spic Ma­cay In­ter­na­tional; she gives talks and pre­sen­ta­tions at pres­ti­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions and uni­ver­si­ties; she has been a judge at many art events, art fairs and art com­pe­ti­tions; and has at­tended nu­mer­ous art camps in In­dia, Bangkok, Cam­bo­dia, Lon­don, Moscow, St Peters­burg, Italy, Greece and Swe­den. Also, she has been awarded by Megh Man­dal Sansthan, Min­istry of Cul­ture, Govern­ment of In­dia.

An artist’s life

Nayanaa Kan­odia loves to ded­i­cate most of her time to her work. You can find her in the stu­dio every morn­ing with­out fail! She paints un­til the late af­ter­noon and then spends the evenings with the lap­top, which in to­day’s world has be­come a ne­ces­sity. “One has to jug­gle around and jux­ta­pose work and leisure, many times sac­ri­fic­ing the lat­ter,” she says. “How­ever, I would like to add that I feel ex­tremely re­laxed and re­ju­ve­nated when I paint, no mat­ter how phys­i­cally and men­tally ex­haust­ing the ex­er­cise ac­tu­ally is. My fin­gers itch the day I do not paint. I feel that I have missed out on some­thing and a

What I feel is, it is very im­por­tant to look at things, an­a­lyse them and then ap­ply cre­ativ­ity to bring out your artis­tic sig­na­ture

kind of cre­ativ­ity vac­uum sets in. Be­ing a wife, mother, grandmother and artist can be a daunt­ing task, as one has to jux­ta­pose all these roles with great dex­ter­ity, pleas­ing and keep­ing ev­ery­one happy—like an ac­ro­bat bal­anc­ing him­self on a tightrope. But at the end of the day, my hap­pi­ness lies in my fam­ily’s hap­pi­ness.”

Kan­odia is not only du­ti­ful to­wards her art, but also be­lieves that it is her duty as a hu­man be­ing to help the less priv­i­leged. “One feels so re­warded to see a smile on their faces,”she says, re­fer­ring to her ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Kan­odia cu­rates the art shows of the In­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety (the old­est can­cer so­ci­ety in In­dia) on their An­nual Founder’s Day. She is also closely as­so­ci­ated with sev­eral NGOs like Con­cern In­dia, Khushi, Peo­ple for An­i­mals, Wildlife SOS, CPAA and Nar­gis Dutt Foun­da­tion.

Themes for art

For the last three years, Kan­odia has been con­cen­trat­ing on cre­at­ing mas­ter­pieces for the show, The Quin­tes­sen­tial Woman- A Cel­e­bra­tion. Asked about her favourite cre­ations, she points to a list that in­cludes The Great In­dian Bazaar, Ramu Boot­pol­ish­walla, Hu­sain’s Horses, The Last Sup­per, Ma­nip­u­la­tion Cor­po­ra­tion, The Early Birds, Sun­day Out­ing, Part­ners for Life, Fe­male Power and Spoilt for Choice.

“The Masters in­spire me, as there is so much to learn and take in­spi­ra­tion from. One has to teach a child the al­pha­bet and only then can they de­velop their own hand­writ­ing. Sim­i­larly, artists can­not de­velop their own style and carve a niche for them­selves un­less their ba­sics are very strong,” ex­plains Kan­odia talk­ing about her artis­tic in­spi­ra­tion.

Com­ing to the themes of her works, she adds, “The var­i­ous themes for my paint­ings draw from a vast reper­toire such as horses, build­ings, colo­nial hang­over and the legacy of the Bri­tish Raj, road­side ven­dors, an­cient sports, wed­dings, ve­hi­cles—in short, life­styles of the past and pre­sent. In­stead of de­pict­ing tragic scenes, I love pre­sent­ing a snapshot of life through my art that is pre­pos­ter­ous to the max­i­mum, ex­u­ber­ant and burst­ing with en­ergy, idio­syn­crasy and ab­sur­dity. I re­flect on the charming idio­syn­cra­sies of my sub­jects with a fine de­gree of wit and gen­tle satire.”

Kan­odia's paint­ings pre­sent flat, bright pol­ished sur­faces, vi­brant and dy­namic colours and in­tri­cate de­tails and pat­terns on can­vas. She fo­cuses on cur­rent so­cial is­sues that In­dia is wit­ness­ing such as con­ser­va­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment, women’s em­pow­er­ment, etc.

Kan­odia signs off with words of ad­vice for bud­ding artists: “There are no short cuts to suc­cess. Apart from your tal­ent, you have to work hard to achieve artis­tic ex­cel­lence. You have to hone your skills. An artist should never say that he or she has reached the pin­na­cle, be­cause that will be the end of all cre­ativ­ity

Nayanaa Kan­odia

Per­fec­tion Per­son­i­fied (Size: 30x 40 inches)

For the Love of Pi­casso (Size: 30 x 48 inches)

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