Artist Marion Colomer’s studio in her home in a quiet, tree lined South Delhi Colony is full chaos of an artist’s surroundings. Her painting lie rolled up and propped next to a carved wooden partition that’s been painted green. The works also feature Indian people - Tiger Pataudi, Mallika Sarabhai, Alyque Padamsee, designers like Gaurav Gupta and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla. It’s just that Marion is French. The pretty 25 years old has been living in India for the better part of three years, and say she only leaves Delhi for Paris for a few month in the summer because she goes back to meet her family.
“Europe usually think of India in the terms of two clichés,” she explains. “It’s either the maharaja and the elephants, or it’s the starving street kids. I first came here in 2003 with my class in my institute in France to study cinema painters those who paint posters for Hindi films, and then I came back the next year for a workshop, because I could not make up my mind whether I hated India or I loved it. In 2006, again, I returned to do portraits of some members of the royalty. Abroad, if they hear you have been to India, they’ll ask if you’ve had deal with the widespread poverty, or they’ll think of it in terms of the maharaja. But three years here, and sometimes I think that I am as ignorant about the place as I was when I first arrived.”
Marion says she did not want to paint an impoverished picture of the country. “I’m not interested in showing picture of the village people,” she says. “For my subjects, I choose Indian icons who have achieved something for society, people recognize them. Of course, the village picture also images of India, but there are already many artists presenting that side of the country. I want to present the people who are on the point of confluence between traditions and modernity in India. To me, they represent modern India people like Nawab Pataudi, Alyque, Piyush Pandy, people who are working and doing well in their respective fields. “But it’s not like Marion has no contact with the other India. She gets her painting embroidered, and she says that even the workers who do that embroidery on her paintings, who might not be well off, recognize the subjects of her paintings, identify with them and feel proud that they get to work on their portraits.
She emphasizes she doesn’t paint for just a French or Indian audience. “My works are for everyone,” she says. “In France, I want to show that I am working with a good balance of people the strata whom I paint, and the workers who embroider my painting. I use elements from the Indian art tradition, like the court motifs from miniature painting, henna patterns, and elements from the western tradition I do their portraits in the traditional western way. My whole point is to built bridges a communication between the two styles is important. That’s why I paint in layers. It’s meant to be symbolic of the many layers in society, art and life.”
She says that her perception of India has changed complete since she came here. “Of course, I was reading up on it already, so I was not that badly off, but it’s so different from the clichés. There’s a constant intermingling of traditional values and modernity. And it’s important to preserve those values, not just in life, but in art. Because Indian art has retained those values, she says, it’s monetary values will keep going up. Indian art sells a lot more India,” she explains. “Not many western artists can get into Indian gallery. The stories that Indian art tells are more familiar to the Indian buyer. It’s traditional art, nourished by influences within the culture. It doesn’t take too many risks.”
Coming to India for someone who knew no one here was a risk, she agrees, but one worth taking. “Of course, it’s tough, but no other country makes me need to paint every day, “she says. “Anything and everything I see around me makes me want to sketch it. It’s like a proper love-hate relationship.”