The artist’s new Goat and Shepherd series is an ode to Nizamuddin in its pre-pandemic days
It is a bright July morning and we are lucky to have managed to catch painter Anjolie Ela Menon at home sipping tea with her gallerist and friend; most mornings, post 10 am, she is normally at her studio in Nizamuddin. The artist, who turns 81 today (June 17) is fairly buzzing with excitement, about her solo show at AICON Gallery. The New York-based gallery is known to feature art from notable Indian and Pakistani artists and Menon has already packed and sent off her works. Yet she remains in Delhi, home-bound due to the coronavirus pandemic. Also, because America is not issuing tourist visas to Indian citizens right now, even if they happen to be one of the country’s well-known modern painters.
“It’s sad that I will not be able to attend my own solo show because for me it was a rather significant body of work, created at home during what has definitely been the most trying year for humanity,” says Menon, who has experienced a whole year of lockdown, besides recovering from a coronavirus infection herself. “I think it was painting that kept me sane and prevented me from going stir crazy,” says the Padma Shri awardee, who is always well-turned out with her signature red bindi, impeccably draped sari and warm smile. What is most admirable is that she has remained active even during her late 70s and now her early 80s.
Working through the pandemic
“I could no longer visit my studio in the Nizamuddin Lal-Dora area, since everyone in the whole section where I work, had Covid-19,” recalls Menon, who is known for her figurative and romantic works. “So I ended up bringing my materials home to work. I could not stop work, even during the pandemic,” she affirms. One has visited Menon in both her well-appointed home and her studio and the flavour of the Nazimuddin Basti area and its busy old Delhi style does indeed permeate her workspace. Adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb Complex and Sunder Nursery, a popular picnic spot during the pandemic, it is full of character.
“I usually like being surrounded by a little flavour of what could still be seen as the rural or village life of India, and the goat-herds and their goats have often featured in my paintings…even during the Covid-19 lockdown,” says Menon who has been actively involved in the renewal of the Heritage of the Basti area.
Masonites and Christian iconography
In a career spanning over six decades, the artist has experimented in acrylic, fiberglass, even Murano glass sculptures. But her quintessential style has been to work with oil on board, as is the case with her 25 new works as well, each reflecting her fond memories of Nizamuddin in its pre-pandemic days. “I like working on a hard surface because my technique is such that I like to work with thin layers of paint,” says Menon about favouring Masonite board, and her unique style that resembles a Byzantine fresco. The palette of translucent colours is achieved by her layering thin glazes of oil paint onto hardboard. The finely textured surfaces are further enhanced by burnishing the finished work with a soft dry brush, creating a glow reminiscent of medieval icons.
The Goat and Shepherd series has something divine about it, though her shepherds have a secretive air. Whether they are olive-skinned young men in turbans and long draped coats, or white bearded older men, they hold the goats like they are in some way sacred. There are also shepherdesses cradling kids, almost like the Virgin Mary and her infant Jesus, with dark eyes, slightly disheveled hair and of course colourfully patterned clothes.
The collection has “united me with my muse,” says the artist. She hopes to visit New York soon, where her son lives. “My gallerist jokingly told me, ‘Anjolie, if you haven’t been able to have an opening night, we could have a closing ceremony’. Let’s hope that we can actually attend that at least,” the artist says good naturedly. We certainly hope the same.
Anjolie Ela Menon’s show at AICON Art Gallery,NYC, is from August 19 to September 18, 2021