Power Couples In the Indian Art World

Creators And Collectors

In the quest for love, it is rare to find that one person who is not only on the same wavelength as you, but also happens to share the same passion and career! These Power Couples in Indian Art have been the lucky ones – living proof that their shared professions are not inconvenient, but a blessing that has helped fuel their individual creativity. 

1. SUBODH GUPTA AND BHARTI KHER

Married for over 20 years, with intensely different backgrounds and artistic styles, artists Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher have revolutionised the way contemporary art is looked at in India.

(Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher; source: verveonline.com)

In an interview, Gupta said “Language of art is the same all over the world” - and this thought described the couple’s story perfectly.

From being raised in a remote village in Bihar where his father was a railway guard, to becoming the youngest Indian artist to sell for $1.2 million at a Christie’s auction for contemporary Indian art, it is the quintessential rags-to-riches tale for Gupta.

(A creation from Gupta's series of paintings titled 'Saat Samundar Paar', sold for Rs. 34 million in an online auction in 2008)

Encompassing sculpture, paintings, installations, photography, performance and video, Subodh Gupta’s versatility knows no bounds.  He is known especially for the use of steel utensils, a big inspiration from his own life and upbringing.

(Gupta's creation 'Dada 2010-13', made with stainless utensils, exhibited at NMGA, New Delhi; source: blog.artsome.co)

Known for incorporating ‘bindis’ in her work, Bharti Kher was born in London. She decided to travel to India at 23 – her first visit since she was 4. While initially planning to just stay for 6 months, Bharti met Subodh within 2 weeks of her stay, and the rest as they say, is history.

In 2006, Bharti’s work 'The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own' was sold for a record $1.5 million at a Sotheby’s Evening Auction. Today, she is considered one of India’s most-valued female contemporary artists.

(Bharti Kher's Works - Left: The Nemesis of Nations, 2008; Right: The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, 2006)

For Gupta, who did not speak English and Kher, who was not very familiar with Hindi when she landed in India, it was their shared love and passion for art that bridged the gap in communication. Today, they are each other’s best critics and supporters.  

(Left: Subodh Gupta's 'My Family Portrait', 2013. Right: Bharti Kher's 'An Absence of Assignable Cause', 2007 showcases the heart of a blue sperm whale made in fiberglass, decorated with different coloured bindis)

Interesting Facts:

  • The prestigious 'Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres', France's highest cultural award, was conferred upon both Bharti Kher in 2015, and Subodh Gupta in 2013. 
  • Gupta is known to use unusual elements in his work, including cow dung. In 2000, ‘Pure’, a film by Gupta, showed him being slowly cleaned out of the manure that covered his body. 

2. PARAMJIT SINGH AND ARPITA SINGH

Endless support for your present, and constant encouragement for your future, is the best thing you can ask for in a spouse. For artists Paramjit Singh and Arpita Singh, herein lies the strong foundation of their relationship!

(Paramjit Singh and Arpita Singh)

Arpita and Paramjit met at the School of Art, Delhi Polytechnic, as students. Now married for over 50 years, they are both renowned for their individual contributions to the Indian art world.

Paramjit Singh was born in Amritsar in 1935. He was a founder member of 'The Unknown', a group of young painters and sculptors based in Delhi. In 1970, he won a National Award for his work. With 24 solo shows in his career, Paramjit is known for his mystic landscapes. His works are influenced by Impressionism, and colour is a vital part of his art.

(Artworks by Paramjit Singh)

Born in West Bengal, Arpita Singh's artistic style is spontaneous and effortless. Most of Arpita’s works illustrate her playful nature, and her paintings often depict women. Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011, she is one of India’s most highly valued female artists. Her 16-panel work, Wish Dream, influenced by Buddhist ‘thangka’ paintings, fetched $2.24 million in an auction in 2010.

(Artworks by Arpita Singh - Left: I Could See London Through Clouds, Right: Lesser Myth)

According to Arpita, sharing her life with another painter was something fortunate. Not only did they have a deep understanding for each other’s need for space, but also developed deeper respect for each other’s work. The couple lives in Delhi, and have a daughter, Anjum, an acclaimed artist in her own right.

(Left: Untitled work by Paramjit Singh; Right - Wish Dream by Arpita Singh) 

Interesting Facts:

  • In 1988 Paramjit Singh was chosen as Commissioner for the Indian participants at the Art Festival of Pakistan in Lahore.
  • Arpita Singh enjoys watching tennis – a sport, she believes, enables one to see how far the human body can go. She is a fan of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic!

 

3. ATUL DODIYA AND ANJU DODIYA

It’s often said that the happiest couples are those with different personalities, and this holds true for artists Atul Dodiya and Anju Dodiya. Brutally critical, yet supportive, of each other’s work, it’s not just their personalities that differ, but their art too. 

(Anju Dodiya & Atul Dodiya; image source: Mid-Day)

While Atul brings popular culture references, Gandhi, and kitsch into his works, Anju’s art is mainly internal, with serious undertones. Their process of creation is very different as well. While Anju prefers keeping her work private until it’s finished, Atul keeps an open studio and welcomes participation from friends and neighbours.

(Left: Devi and the Sink by Atul Dodiya; Right - Arachne with Birds by Anju Dodiya)

Atul knew he wanted to be a painter at the age of 10. The recipient of a 2008 Raza Award and 1999 Sotheby’s prize, he has made his childhood dream come true. Known to experiment with different mediums, he often uses eclectic imagery to make critical comments on a changing India.

(Left - Mirage (source: Vadehra Art Gallery) & Right - Portrait of Niko Pirosmani (source: Saatchi Gallery) by Atul Dodiya) 

Anju draws inspiration from various sources such as Indian miniatures, world cinema and even medical illustrations! From her first solo show in 1991 to the 2009 Venice Biennale, her works have explored her sense of self and portrayed the gap between dream and reality.

(Artworks by Anju Dodiya; left - Golden Repose, right - Father's Sons. Source: Vadehra Art Gallery)

Their shared love for art and French and Italian films brought them together at the J.J School of Arts. They watched movies and visited galleries together, a practice that has stayed with them till today.

Interesting Facts:

  • During her 2012 exhibition ‘Room for Erasures’, Anju Dodiya invited viewers to participate by giving them erasers to rub off three enormous pencil works!
  • Atul Dodiya’s painting ‘The Wall’ was dedicated to former Indian cricketer Rahul Dravid. It features autographs of 13 members of the Indian Cricket team on each brick of the painting's wall. It fetched Rs 57.6 lakhs at an auction in 2009.

4. JYOTI BHATT AND JYOTSNA BHATT

Some love stories need a little push. And in the case of Jyoti Bhatt and Jyotsna Bhatt, who’ve been married for more than five decades, it was an uncle who was the catalyst!

(Jyoti Bhatt & Jyotsna Bhatt; image source - Asia Art Archive) 

Jyotindra or Jyoti Bhatt is known for his paintings, printmaking and extensive photographic documentation of traditional Indian craft and design, while Jyotsna is known for her ceramic sculptures and pottery.

(Left: Jal-Thal-Nabh by Jyoti Bhatt, Right: ceramic sculpture by Jyotsna Bhatt)

The couple first met when a 17-year old Jyotsna had attended a group show at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai where Jyoti was a participant. When she enrolled at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Vadodara for a formal degree, her uncle asked Jyoti Bhatt to look after his niece. As it turns out, he did take very good care of her, for a lifetime!

Deeply influenced by Indian cultural symbols, Jyoti Bhatt’s works feature the peacock, parrot, lotus, stylized Indian Gods and Goddesses and variations of tribal and village designs. His works feature in numerous international collections, including the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., The British Museum, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

(Shree Ganeshay Namah and Home Coming by Jyoti Bhatt)

As a potter and a ceramist, Jyotsna Bhatt attempts to convey a sense of eloquence, liveliness and energy in her work. With earthy, natural colours, some of her most sought-after ceramic works include delightful figures of birds and animals. 

(Ceramic sculptures by Jyotsna Bhatt, source: terraforma.in)

In spite of the different mediums, it is a similar passion and energy that radiates in their art. Jyoti and Jyotsna Bhatt live and work in Vadodara.

Interesting Facts:

  • Jyotsna Bhatt has been making her own glazes (paints used on ceramic) since the time she started sculpting.
  • Jyoti Bhatt’s extensive photography of the evolution of M.S University and the artistic activities of its faculty and students, is considered the best assembled photographic documentation connected to the Baroda School of Art.  

5. PARESH MAITY AND JAYASRI BURMAN

In spite of their busy schedules, it is easy to see how internationally acclaimed artists Paresh Maity and Jayasri Burman have kept their bond alive. 

(Paresh Maity & Jayasri Burman; Image source: Hindustan Times)

Revolving around a close-knit family, their love is based on similarities. But at the same time, they believe in keeping a safe distance from each other’s work!

The couple met as young artists at exhibitions through mutual friends. According to Jayasri, it was Paresh who inspired her to take up art seriously, even though she comes from a family of eminent artists such as Sakti Burman (uncle) and Maya Burman (cousin).

(Left - Paresh Maity's 'Reflection on Water', source: Sanchit Art; Right - Jayasri Burman's Bandhu Bari, source: Gallery Sanskriti)

For Paresh, it is his wife’s role as the anchor of the family that he loves. Inspired by Picasso and Cubism, he is renowned for his paintings with their bold, strong colours and unusual cropping. With 75 solo exhibitions in a 35-year career, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014.

 (Celebration II by Paresh Maity; Source - Gallery Sanskriti)

While Jayasri admires Paresh’s versatility as an artist, her own art inspiration lies in the strong female figure. Derived largely from Hindu mythology, her paintings and sculptures represent Goddesses in various forms, and feature motifs like birds, swans and fish. Jayasri’s art has a lyrical, fairy-tale like quality, and a uniqueness that is inherently her own.

(Jayasri Burman's bronze sculpture 'Shambhavi' and watercolour on paper titled 'Narayani'; Source: Gallery Sanskriti)

Interesting Facts:

  • In 2007, to commemorate International Women’s Day, the Government of India commissioned a series of stamps featuring Jayasri Burman’s paintings.
  • Stretching over 850 feet, The Indian Odyssey by Paresh Maity is the largest painting in India, adorning the Baggage Claim Hall in the New Delhi International Airport.

 

6. MANU PAREKH AND MADHVI PAREKH

It is true when they say love is about growing together. When one teaches, two learn. And this is exactly what happened with Manu and Madhvi Parekh. 

(Manu Parekh & Madhvi Parekh; Source: Morethiru Photography)

An alumnus of the J.J School of Arts, and a recipient of the Padma Shri, Manu Parekh is known for his series of paintings on the holy city of Banaras. The city has inspired the artist for more than 30 years, and he makes it a point to visit it every fortnight.

(Evening at Banaras by Manu Parekh)

When she married Manu Parekh at 15, Madhvi began watching him put paint to canvas. Eventually, to fill up her spare time during pregnancy, she took up art herself, with Manu training her. Starting with simple line-and-dot drawing exercises, he eventually helped Madhvi develop her own distinct style.

Madhvi’s lack of formal training in art has helped her carve a distinct identity in her work. Her paintings reflect childhood memories and dreams; and religion plays an important role.

(The Last Supper by Madhvi Parekh)

Married for over five decades, Manu Parekh and Madhvi Parekh have had a life free of professional jealousy, and full of mutual admiration. With their daughters, the elder an artist and the younger a photographer, the Parekh household is a bustling one, where art has a special place.

(Left: 'A Boy From Mauritius' by Madhvi Parekh; Right: 'Banaras in Yellow' by Manu Parekh)

Interesting Facts:

  • Dwitya, a documentary film portraying Madhvi and Manu’s artistic journey, was produced by the Ministry of External Affairs in 1992.
  • Madhvi Parekh won a National Award in 1979, three years before Manu Parekh got his.

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