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This artist wants to lead a dog's life

Last updated on: December 14, 2009 18:27 IST

This artist wants to lead a dog's life

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Abhishek Mande

Mumbai and Nasik-based artist Aruna Nene is living her dream. From the time she knew she wanted to become an artist, she hoped that someday her work would be exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, the Mecca for all artists big and small.

From this Monday, Nene's latest set of paintings titled A Dog's Life will be exhibited at the prestigious gallery. She has waited five long years for her turn. If the artist is excited, she does a great job of hiding it. A Dog's Life is in the neo-realistic vein and captures stray dogs in their most serene moments -- sleeping on the pavement, at the train station and on the roads.

The idea for this collection came to her almost five years ago travelling in Mumbai's local trains. It was a unique experience for someone who has lived most of her life in New Delhi and in defence colonies around the country.

"The trains were crowded and I would wonder how people did it on an everyday basis! I'd often hear this phrase kutte ki zindagi (it's a dog's life) while travelling. Funnily, though, whenever I would get off the trains I'd invariably find a stray dog sleeping peacefully in the midst of all the chaos. It was a lesson in detachment that everyone keeps talking about. And I thought to myself, hey, it isn't so bad to lead a dog's life after all, being in the midst of everything and yet so cut away and at peace," she says.

This serenity comes across in the pictures Nene has painted over the last one year: a dog lying against a closed collapsible grill, another one in a cosy corner next to a brick wall and yet another looking into the space around it.


Image: Aruna Nene has moved from an impressionistic to a neo-realistic style of painting

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'I wanted to paint for as long as I can remember and never considered another profession'

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The eyes of most of her subjects are closed, as if in meditation. There is also a certain amount of aloofness -- the kind that philosophers often preach about. Yet the cityscape that forms the backdrop of her paintings brings out the irony that many of us seem to miss.

Nene says she'd always wanted to be a painter 'for as long as I can remember'. In fact there was no other profession she had ever considered. So soon after she finished her 12th grade, Nene made her way to MS University in Baroda. Her initial inspiration came from the stark landscape of Rajasthan, where she spent a few years of her life.

"I would be amazed by the acacia trees that stood majestically in the midst of a barren landscape. I'd often wonder where they would get the water from because all around there would be nothing but desert!" she says.

Trees also formed the subject of Nene's first set of paintings, a collection that travelled to Mumbai and Delhi. She says that while her exhibition in Delhi at the Lalit Kala Akademi was received well, she was hoping for a better response in Mumbai. "I guess it also had something to do with the timing of my exhibition in Mumbai. While it did decently well, I was hoping for it to do better," she says.

Some of these impressionist works continue to adorn the walls of her Mumbai house.

Much unlike the strong and rooted trees she paints, Nene's roots are spread far and wide. Thanks to her father who was in the Indian Air Force, the artist grew up in various cities across the country. "But I am essentially a Delhi girl," she says.


Image: The soothing greens and the rural landscape have given way to urban spaces and glowing reds and yellows

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'I couldn't paint because I was looking at my creations from a buyer's point of view'

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Life in Mumbai for Nene has been very interesting. Her journeys in the local trains have taught her much. She's discovered that behind the facade of a busy city street there are always people who have the time in the world to pour over her shoulder and see what she's up to in the middle of a weekday. "It was impossible to paint on the streets so I had to take photographs that I could paint from," she says. And it was after shooting hundreds of them that she chose a handful and put them on canvas.

Nene recollects an incident when the police pulled her up for taking pictures on a railway station. "I was blissfully shooting pictures on a railway platform when a cop appeared and asked me what I was up to. I didn't know that I had to take permission to shoot pictures on the platform. They actually took me in for a police enquiry and didn't let me go till I paid a fine. Since then I stopped taking pictures on railway platforms," she says.

Indeed, her stay in this bustling metropolis is also reflected in her work. The canvas is more realistic as the rural landscape has given way to urban scenes and the colour palette has moved beyond soothing greens to glowing reds and yellows.

This collection was also perhaps tougher to bring out than she'd imagined. She knew what she wanted to paint when she'd applied to Jehangir for an exhibition space, five years ago. However it wasn't until early this year that she'd started painting.

"I was facing an artist's block," she says. "Somewhere I realised that I was hoping to create something but was looking at it from a buyer's point of view. It restricted my vision and I simply could not paint. That was when I decided to donate money to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals." Once the money bit was out of the way the brush did its magic and A Dog's Life was born.

The exhibition opens on December 14 and will be on till December 20 at Mumbai's Jehangir Art Gallery.

On her Facebook account Aruna writes against 'the fast-paced, mechanised life of consumerism, greed, dissatisfaction and compromises' and hopes to re-learn the concepts of contentment, unconditional love, simplicity and 'live as nature intended us to -- free-spirited, happy and at peace'. A picture of a dog lying peacefully looking at the world pass by accompanies this somewhat long essay.

It isn't all that bad after all... leading a dog's life.


Image: The serenity of a dog lying against an urban backdrop forms the theme of Nene's latest collection A Dog's Life

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