Earlier in November, at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, that actor, director, and painter, Amol Palekar opened his solo show, titled ‘Through the Radiance’. Curated by film director and Palekar’s wife, Sandhya Gokhale, it is a series of abstract works interspersed with traditional Rajasthani kavad, a storytelling tool with panels that aid a narrative. The lighting is focused and cinematic, and the canvases are framed in a manner that adds depth to the paintings.
Palekar, who graduated from the JJ School of Arts, started out as a painter with his first solo show in 1967. It was in the same year that he took his first steps in theatre through Chup! Court Chalu Hai, and in film with Govind Nihalani and Satyadev Dubey’s Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe.
After his two back to back hits in Hindi films – Rajnigandha (1974) and Chhoti Si Baat (1976), Palekar, a well-known name of the Mumbai stage, became a nationally known name, playing an Everyman character whom the middle classes could identify with. Paintings took a backseat and Palekar’s life was made of the stage and film sets. He played memorable roles and was a regular in Basu Chatterjee’s and Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films. Palekar terms this period in his life as his first innings.
Now on to his second, since 2014, Palekar is back to painting with renewed vigour and armed with his learnings from the performing arts. “The basic difference between the performing arts/cinema, and visual arts is that in the former, you are trying to communicate with another person, and presenting your art. With visual arts, it’s an inward journey. It’s diametrically opposite,” he says. “The wisdom in performing arts and cinema gave me quite a few insights for this inward journey. It has made me richer,” he adds.
This, he tells us, is especially true, of his last exhibition, where he has become more confident and doesn’t find the need to say too much. “In theatre, I learned how to hold a pause. In between two lines, the pause that I hold is completely my victory as an actor. Not saying anything and yet being expressive is something I brought back to my second innings in visual arts. I don’t fill up the entire canvas. I am not scared of having said just a little. I have realised that the unspoken that you convey through a pause or texture, is powerful,” he says.
Palekar uses the medium of oil paints that is both rigid and difficult to work with. He finds acrylic too synthetic, Gokhale steps in to say. His current work is not just visually different but technically accomplished, too. His brush strokes are stronger and more confident, and the use of colour is exuberant, without giving in to the loud.
Painted during the pandemic that the duo chose to spend in their Pune home, these works, Palekar tells us, were an attempt to find the ray of light at the end of the tunnel. His use of black canvases and hues like red, orange, green, and cobalt blue, speak of this duality.
“It is reflective of how I dealt with the pandemic. If we think of the pandemic, it was completely dark and full of depression and pessimism. It was like being in a gigantic tunnel, you see nothing, and you feel nothing. You have no clue when or if this will end. That’s why I chose black canvas,” he says.
“At the same time, I knew that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. This is how I started facing the black canvas and trying to find the light that will give us hope, relief, and exuberance. The canvas started talking to me, through bright colours and bold strokes. I started exploring that feeling of joy and celebration that one needs to have,” he adds.
Akin to an earlier series of paintings titled ‘Trickles’, Palekar’s mastery of oil paint has enabled him to infuse in it a watercolour-like ability. The trickles of paint, streaming down are nearly translucent. “It is this focus on texture, technique, and brush strokes that makes this series different from others,” Gokhale says.
Palekar’s abstraction carries forward in kavads that act as companion pieces to some of the paintings. They are extensions of the same strokes and colours, with varied surface areas that add a hint of drama. Palekar tells us that his process involved a canvas and the accompanying kavad before he moved on to the next.
The kavad has fascinated him from the time he made Paheli, which he directed based on Vijaydan Detha’s story Duvidha, and that made him travel to the interiors of Rajasthan. This is another instance of his work in film seeping into the realm of the visual arts. For Palekar though, it has all been a seamless journey. “If you notice the films I have directed, my visual search for spaces, locations, and forms, you can see the painter in me. You can also see the performer in me. It has all blended well together,” he says.
By the time he had left the JJ School of Arts, Palekar’s interest in representative painting had vanished. He has explored abstract art from his first exhibition and says that he finds it far more enriching. He does, however, lament the fact that people find the form unapproachable.
“Why is understanding art a pre-condition? You don’t have to know what raga music is based on to enjoy it. We respond to poetry easily even though it goes beyond words. But, we unfortunately, as a society, are not exposed to forms of visual arts,” he says, adding that dialogue and conversations through his exhibitions help him bridge the gap.
And yet, there are times, when the response to his works of abstraction leaves him overwhelmed. “There was a young boy, not from a city boy one could tell. He went very close to one of the paintings and spent half an hour looking at it. Sandhya asked him what he was looking at. He said that he was intrigued by the texture. She asked him if he was a painter. He said he had never thought about it, but after this, he felt like the painting,” says Palekar, narrating one of them.