Dutch artist celebrates India's mysticism in bejeweled paintings

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Kochi, Nov 11: Escaping Nazi persecution, his grandmother had stayed in India in the 1930-40s', and now Dutch artist and author Olaf Van Cleef is celebrating the country's famed pluralism and mysticism in a series of bejeweled paintings depicting Hindu gods, goddesses, motifs and myths in myriad moods.

During his ongoing first exhibition in Kerala entitled 'Diamond Diwali' here, Mr Van Kleef told the sources that he grew up on a daily diet of stories of India, recounted by his grandmother Magda, who had stayed in the country from 1938-44.

''For me, India has always been like a mosaic, with its plethora of languages, people and cultures. Also, India is the land of Moguli, Ka and Balu - characters from Rudyard Kipling's 'Jungle Book' - which were my favourites,'' he added.

The 57-year-old Van Kleef's first visit to India was as a 15-year-old, in 1965, and he still remembers the parrot his grandmother bought him from Crawford Market in Mumbai. His next visit, however, was only after ten years, but since then, he had been a regular visitor to the country.

''This is my 52nd visit to India,'' says the Paris-based author-artist, who describes Kolkata as his second home and vows an abiding regard for the 'Mother' at the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Puducherry.

Mr Van Kleef, a scion of the renowned Dutch Van Kleef family, which made a name for itself through the export of the famous kosher 'gouda' cheese, also works as a councellor on high range jewellery at Cartier in Paris.

Van Cleef's fascination with Tanjore paintings, in which gems such as rubies and emeralds were used, was a natural extension of his work with precious stones at Cartier. But, instead of choosing jewels, ''which I cannot afford, I preferred to work with Svarovski crystals, which offered the opportunity to play with a prism of colours and shades, bouncing off their smooth surfaces.

Be it serpents or elephants, coconut or 'pepul' trees, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Brahma or Krishna, the delicately coloured but brightly adorned paintings, reflect a perfect assimilation of India in his art.

He has also published an essay on his travels through India, called 'From Darjeeling to Pondicherry'.

The artist, who held shows earlier at Chennai, Kolkata and Puducherry, was holding his first exhibition in Kerala at the heritage 'Brunton Boatyard' hotel here from November seven to 12.

Kochi, he says, is special because of its Jewish and Dutch connections - both of which find parallels in his life. Recalling that his grandmother had visited Kochi and stayed at the Bolghatty Palace, he feels that his exhibition here will signal a return of a very old Jewish family to the south of India.

An unabashed admirer of Indian cuisine and Bollywood movies, he says ''I love the show, the music, dance and the colour in Bollywood movies.'' ''India is such a generous country. It has always given of itself to the people of the world. I will like to give it something in return,'' he adds.


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