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Rajesh Mehra: An untapped entity

Delhi Silpi Chakra group member, Rajesh Mehra's life narratives.

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Search the name Rajesh on the Internet and you’ll be flooded with either late actor Rajesh Khanna’s achievements, his IMDB page or asked to Join Facebook to connect with Rajesh Profiles. What’s lost here is the name of a man who worked with the likes of MF Husain, had numerous paintings showcased in famous exhibits during his career as a painter and is still approached by many curators and galleries. Lost is the man with a name once held so high.

Paintings of Rajesh Mehra
Paintings of Rajesh Mehra.Image Source: http://artanddeal.in/cms/?p=3366

Rajesh Mehra, a well-known painter during his time stopped painting around 40 years ago. Manik Sharma interviews Mehra and narrates the journey of a now 84 year-old painter from his days of sheen to a time where convincing insurance agents for a medical fills up his day.

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Mehra was born in Karolbagh, Delhi in 1932. Joining the Delhi Polytechnic College (later renamed the Delhi College of Art) was his first step towards discovering his passion for paintings. “Unlike today, where courses are thin, we had to learn everything from cooking, to art to literature. It was exhausting at times but I loved it,” says Rajesh Mehra. Starting by putting up paintings in the open space of his college he earned a reputation worthy enough to be invited by BC Sanyal to join Shilpi Chakra. In 1953 he started painting carriages to put some money in his pocket for all the expensive canvases and paints. He had the fire in him but not the money to fuel it.

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With the advent of mid-50’s MF Husain’s popularity grew nationwide and just like every other painter in town Rajesh Mehra too dreamt of a rendezvous with a man that had reached the apex of a profession he so loved. “I desperately wanted to meet Husain. So in 1956 I heard talk about Husain being assigned a mural by one of the education departments in the capital. Out of sheer luck Husain was about to visit a photography studio run by my friend Narendra Pal Singh. I got to know from there that Husain stayed in Delhi at the house of critic M Krishnan, near Ganga Ram hospital. I decided I would meet him at any cost,” Mehra exclaims. He did finally get to meet Husain and was advised to show up to the department’s office where he was offered to assist Husain saab and paid Rs.500 for the job. During his tenure as an assistant, when irked by his growing sense of restlessness he walked up to MF Husain and asked him “I just want to be a painter, but I don’t know where to start.Mujhe nahi pataa kahan se shuru karun.” The reply to a question so naïve stuck with him and guided him in his future endeavours, ‘apne aapse shuru karo‘ words by Husain ji.

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By 1964, he had gained appreciation by prominent figures after the first exhibition of Group 1890 had taken place. And in the same year he travelled to Europe, a country with a culture so different that he felt out of his place on coming back to India. He said, “There was a general, more collective approach towards supporting art in Europe. In India, on the other hand, most of these people were more than happy to step on each other’s foot.” Regardless of his concern over way things worked back in India and the unfortunate fall out of the Group 1890 movement, Mehra had bills to pay and hence had to join as a professor at the College of Art on his return. “When I came back from London, I wasn’t exactly welcomed and soon learned that I had been demoted. Although jobs didn’t really matter as much to me, but it was still a blow to my reputation,” he says.

MehraInLondon1965 ImageSource : http://www.firstpost.com/living/the-man-who-wasnt-there-why-rajesh-mehras-canvasses-suddenly-came-to-an-end-2867822.html
MehraInLondon1965 ImageSource : http://www.firstpost.com/living/the-man-who-wasnt-there-why-rajesh-mehras-canvasses-suddenly-came-to-an-end-2867822.html

The turning point for him was his relocation out of Karolbagh, Delhi. He had a connection to the room he painted in, a connection, which he couldn’t build in his new home in Jangpura. In 1975 he travelled to the mountains to rejuvenate himself and lived in Ranikhet for about two months in a cottage owned by a British Woman. But with both his parents falling critically ill he lost that peace in him, a peace that he never gained back again. Though he made sure to keep one last exhibition in 1978 but this one unlike others did not see any invitations going out to critics.

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Today, his room looks like a warehouse for canvasses; canvasses that he will not sell even after countless galleries approached him. “I want to keep them for the time that I’m alive. God knows what will happen to them once I’m dead,” he says. He chooses to remain an untapped entity.

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Study Shows Autistic Traits Behind Revolution in Ice Age Art

The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realistic art to flourish 30,000 years ago during the ice age, according to researchers. Ice age ancestors have created exceptionally realistic art including the extremely accurate depictions of bears, bison, horses, and lions.

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Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world's longest cave system, with more than 365 miles explored. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realistic art to flourish 30,000 years ago during the ice age, according to researchers.

Ice age ancestors have created exceptionally realistic art including the extremely accurate depictions of bears, bison, horses and lions.

Autistic Child lighting a candle
Autistic Child lighting a candle, pixabay

While many have argued that psychotropic drugs were behind the detailed illustrations, the new study argued instead that individuals with “detail focus” — a trait linked to autism, kicked off an artistic movement that led to the proliferation of realistic cave drawings across Europe.

“Detail focus is what determines whether you can draw realistically; you need it in order to be a talented realistic artist. This trait is found very commonly in people with autism and rarely occurs in people without it,” said lead author Penny Spikins from Britain’s University of York.

“We looked at the evidence from studies attempting to identify a link between artistic talent and drug use and found that drugs can only serve to disinhibit individuals with a pre-existing ability. The idea that people with a high degree of detail focus, many of which may have had autism, set a trend for extreme realism in ice age art is a more convincing explanation,” Spikins added.

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that people with autistic traits played an important role in human evolution.

Art Therapy for Autistic Children
Art Therapy for Autistic Children, pixabay

“Individuals with this trait — both those who would be diagnosed with autism in the modern day and those that wouldn’t — likely played an important part in human evolution and survival as we colonized Europe,” Spikins said.

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Besides, contributing to early culture, people with the attention to detail would also have had the focus to create complex tools from materials such as bone, rock and wood, the study showed.

“These skills became increasingly important in enabling us to adapt to the harsh environments we encountered in Europe,” Spikins noted. (IANS)