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In 1960,1 went to Paris and studied in the Atelier Fresque at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In fresco one has to draw because the fresh, wet lime-plaster is applied along the line of the drawing each day, rather like doing one huge piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It also uses a single application of pigment. There is no over-painting, no rubbing out. This technique brought me to use thinner paint and well-designed areas, very different from what I'd been doing. I had been to New York for the first time the year before and was very moved by visits to Harlem (mainly in pursuit of a passion for jazz), and painted a series of Harlem pictures which were subsequently sold in Paris. Later, on my overland trip back from France to India with a friend, I painted in water-colours for the first and only time. It is not my medium really, but there were hundreds of small, dense paintings, a sort of emotional diary of our travels through Turkey and Greece, weeks spent on an archaeological dig in Syria, journeying through the desert to Baalbek, Jericho and Jerusalem, spending nights in the sandy caves of Petra and ending up for two months in Iran consolidating the visual experiences of that amazing journey. Finally, I came home to get married to my childhood love. IM: Were there any strong influences on you when you were in school? AEM: I went to a co-educational boarding school, Lawrence School, in Lovedale, Tamil Nadu. In contrast to the very spartan background and military tradition of the school, its Department of Art was like an oasis of beauty and calm presided over by an extraordinary teacher, Sushil Mukherji. We were given total freedom here. The few of us who showed talent were called into his study and shown beautiful picture books, mainly about the Impressionists. Needless to say, our young imaginations were greatly fired by Van Gogh and we wept when we heard he'd cut off his ear. One day, Mukherji allowed me to use his palette knife and it was then that I knew I wanted to be a painter and not a doctor as was ordained by my family! Those years were full of vigour and abandon, with thick pigment and great swirls and swipes. By the time I left school I'd painted at least forty canvases; by the age of fifteen I 'd sold quite a few. IM: After Lovedale, you studied art in Bombay, then Delhi University and, finally, to Paris. In the world of painting, music and literature, to whom do you feel closest? AEM: I had a rude shock when I joined the Sir J.J. School of Arts Bombay, at sixteen. Here, there were nothing but rows and rows of Greek and Roman statuary which we were compelled to draw from endlessly, and the effort to rein us in and steep us in British academia led me into fits of sullen despair. No swirls and flourishes and no influences here. But outside School, impressions came thick and fast. There were a lot of exhibitions in Bombay. There were the rather mannered very Indian paintings which were what I call 'School of Maharashtra', a sort of half-way house between academic painting and miniatures; and, of course, I saw the first time the paintings of M.F. Husain and Mohan Samant, both of whom would influence me greatly. Samanta's early work was the first abstract expressionist painting I had seen and I much admired his handling of huge, empty spaces. I left art school in disgust after about six months and then came heavily under the influence of Husain, who was and continues to be a most charismatic figure. For a while I was influenced by the strong black outlines and flat surfaces of his style, but never his subject matter. When I was about eighteen I was drawn to the romantic, elongated forms of Modigliani, and to the lyricism of that great Indian painter, Amrita Shergil. Shergil epitomized perfect aesthetics, distilling into her very still pictures all that was most beautiful in rural India. I strongly rejected the Bengal School of painters that, to my mind, had sentimentalized the poverty of the Bengali countryside to a level of such sickly-sweet pathos that it palls to this day. At this time I painted prolifically and was not particularly concerned about finding a style of my own. In my first exhibition there were fifty-three paintings in a variety of styles. At that innocent age one acknowledged influences quite unabashedly. When I found myself at the Ecole des Beaux Art in Paris, I was totally bewildered by a vast array of new ideas and visions.
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Anjolie  ela menon