Shades of Kolkata - Avanish Trivedi

Avanish Trivedi(@artist_avanish) was twenty-three when he started taking painting seriously. Though he had nurtured it passively, since childhood. His grandfather used to get him sketchbooks as a child and in his youth, he frequented art exhibitions.  All of this collectively inspired him to join the Birla Academy of Art and Culture in Kolkata in 2009. There, he found a mentor in Jiban Biswas, who complimented his realistic style and his sense for color. He surprises me by saying that he still goes there. “It’s because of my work schedule. I work through the week and I’m only free on the weekends” Avanish works at Tata Consultancy Services in Kolkata. This leaves him free only on the weekends. Though he only paints part time, he makes sure that he devotes his entire attention to it. Which becomes clear when you look at his repertoire. “I work on my art through the week, whenever I’m free and I discuss it with my mentor on the weekends.”

Though he was born and raised in Kolkata, he tells me that his family originally hailed from Gujarat. His family settled in Kolkata a hundred years ago. Avanish has a deep-set nostalgia for the city and all its sights, and when one looks at his cityscapes, peppered with yellow cabs, rickshaw pullers, trams and crowds that give life to the city. “I felt the city calling me to paint it” he says. When he started on this quest of painting his nostalgia, many warned him that he was not doing anything new. “Kolkata was a muse for many other famous artists as well” But rather than shy away from it, Avanish has dug deep within his soul and bought out what the city means to him in his paintings. He cites Sanjay Leela Bhansali as an inspiration for painting what he calls as the “Kolkata Nostalgia Collection”

Another city that held his attention was Las Vegas. In 2018 he went to visit his brother living in Arizona there he bought a camera and extensively photographed the West Coast. Eventually he wound up in Las Vegas. “There was so much energy, joy and vibrance in the city. I spent a lot of time walking around the streets, bars and Casinos” Then after coming back he felt the calling back to him, and he ended up painting some scenes from his trip there.

Avanish had a bit of a rocky start as a painter, though he had been painting for quite some time. He had his first big break at the end of 2017, when he exhibited his painting at the Society of Contemporary Artists. He tells me that painters like M. F. Hussain had exhibited their works there. He exhibited nineteen paintings, out of which only one was sold. After this bittersweet experience he got another shot at exhibiting his works in January 2018. An artist who was supposed to exhibit, cancelled two weeks prior to the event at the Taj Hotel in Kolkata, and Avanish was called to step in. He said yes without a second’s thought. He did thirteen paintings in two weeks, spending around sixteen hours on each painting. All of his efforts paid off and the exhibition was a huge success, ‘a completely sold out show’ in his words. After that he was called for the Kolkata Arts Lane Festival in ’19, where he was given a stall. The festival had around ten thousand visitors some of whom became his customers and patrons. Avanish tells me that he has patrons from fourteen different countries.

Surely, he must have taken a few days off to prepare for the Taj exhibit. But to my surprise Avanish tells me that he took only a mere two days of leave. He tells me that he had turned down opportunities at work so that he could focus on his painting. He even went as far as telling his higher-ups that he did not wish to be deputed anywhere. “A promotion means more responsibilities, and that takes up too much of my time. Time, which I could spend painting” People who hungrily climb the corporate ladder would call him a fool for pursuing something as capricious as painting. But Avanish is anything but that. To focus more on his painting, he even switched from a management post to training job. “This gave me the emotional and mental bandwidth I needed to focus on my painting”.

Avanish is an early riser, he tells me that he wakes up at six in the morning. He sends his kids off to school and does Yoga for a half an hour. Then he starts painting at seven in the morning and continues till ten, after which he heads to work at eleven. His weekends are devoted to painting and spending time with his family.  

After the exhibit at the Taj hotel, Avanish gifted a portrait to West Bengal’s Chief Minister when she came to inaugurate the Durga Pooja festivities in his area. He proudly tells me that he has also painted a portrait of Ratan Tata and gifted it to him last year in May. He was unable to meet him, but he received a personal e-mail from the man himself a month later, praising him for his skills and thanking him for the painting. That was a very proud moment that Avanish related with his voice beaming with pride. Another moment that he relates with equal pride is when he met M.F. Hussain in ’96. Hussain had come to Kolkata for a Modern Art exhibition. Avanish’s aunt was working for the gallery conducting the exhibition and he met him through her. “He was a very simple and humble man with a cheerful bearing, he insisted that we have tea together” After tea, while conversing with the young Avanish, Hussain painted a small bird on the brochure for the exhibition and had presented it to Avanish. “It was a possession that I treasured for a long time” Avanish also paints a lot of Bollywood celebrities, especially it’s Badshah, Shah Rukh Khan. He tells me that he watches a lot of 90’s and 00’s era movies. Recently he had painted a portrait of the acclaimed actor Farooq Sheik, which was acquired by a critic from the Bimal Roy foundation to be presented to the actor’s family along with a posthumous lifetime achievement award. 

Avanish tells me about the ‘accidental effect’ in watercolor painting, which is what drew him to painting them. He tells me that the colors created in a watercolor painting are unique and cannot be replicated by anyone, even by the artist who originally painted it. Initially, he tried out oils and acrylics for a while but found them not challenging enough, “Oils and acrylics give you the ability to correct your mistakes, but that’s not the case with watercolors. They have their own fun and it gives me a lot of opportunity to explore things” he says. He adds that watercolors are quite portable, “I can sit and paint anywhere” He cites Alvaro Castagnet, Arup Lodh, Joseph Zbuvick, Kourush Aslani, Guan Weixing and last but not least his mentor, Jiban Biswas.

Avanish finds painting to be calming activity, he even found himself painting a lot during the lockdown. “I came up with some wonderful canvasses in the past two weeks” He proudly adds.

Even though he’s been painting for a while, he hasn’t thought of getting involved in teaching art. This is chiefly due to the constraints of his job. He tells me that he occasionally mentors a young boy in his apartment building. “Even if anyone wanted to learn from me, I would teach them for free” he says. I ask if he would prefer teaching adults or children, “Adults” he says after a moment’s thought “Children are interested in a lot of things, but it takes long time for them to figure out what they want to do. Whereas adults, are more focused, and I personally feel that teaching them would have a positive impact on their lives” He tells me of his own colleagues at his office who marvel at his skills as a painter, and have taken up painting after seeing his works.

So how did his family react to his painting, “They were initially happy, I would show them my paintings and ask them what they thought about them.” But when he began to take a deeper interest in painting, they warned him about losing focus on his job. “They told me that I was taking a big risk by doing this. But I have an optimistic approach, I leave things to time and keep pushing forward with confidence in myself and faith in what I’m doing”    

Apart from painting, Avanish is also a photographer. He tells me that he read up on the methods painters used to acquired subjects for their paintings and his eye fell on photography. Furthermore, he didn’t want to be drawn into any copyright battles by choosing images from the internet. He started photography in 2009 with a basic DSLR camera and built up a good collection of images. Some of them were even published in leading newspapers in the city. “It might be because I bring my painters gaze to the lens of a camera, but my patrons have even bought some of my photographs”

Avanish has a lot on his plate, being a father, husband, an ideal employee at the workplace and, a painter. He tells me that he finds it difficult to paint at home sometimes because of the lack of space. “I have to tell my kids to move into the other room when I start painting” Does he teach his kids? “Yes. I occasionally do teach them” then he adds fondly “They’re very eager to help out, so sometimes when I’m working on a large canvas, I give them some brushes and ask them to do the undercoat for the painting and they happily paint away.”

But the time and effort the put into his craft is paying off, only yesterday one of his paintings, of a rickshaw puller, was sold at an online auction. And if he can find it in his heart to be productive in one of the most trying times of this era, Avanish will surely reach heights that have remained untouched. 

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