Danesh Bharucha, who was born in Pune, later moved to France at the age of 21, and spent a considerable amount of time at the landmark mansion of the French Riviera known as Villa Savaric. He captured the beauty of the place on canvas and other naturescapes in watercolours, which he is exhibiting at Darpan Art Gallery from February 15.
Bharucha now lives in France and has worked for 31 years at the US Embassy and because of his job, he has travelled to different countries. He also took a year’s course in figure drawing at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he learnt about pen and ink drawing. Several of his ink sketches are on display at the show titled ‘Villa Savaric’ presented by Alliance Française de Pune.
Excerpts from the conversation
Which aspect of the landmark mansion, Villa Savaric, you wanted to capture through your artwork?
I was very fortunate to be able to live in the mansion called Villa Savaric for 11 months, during 1970-71. I painted it many times. There are two paintings of Villa Savaric in my show.
The aspect that attracted me the most was the overall setting of the place, which was just magical. Built high on a mountainside, the mansion was surrounded by beautiful, old trees, rocks and mountains, and an ancient Roman village, called Eze village, visible on the mountain behind the house. The architecture of the house was elegant and striking.
You have seen the best and worst of the countries that you have travelled to because of your job. How much do the culture and tradition of these places influence your work?
In my work-related travels, I often went to African cities, notably Abidjan, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cairo. I also went frequently to Moscow, Jerusalem and Bangkok. Within Europe, I would be sent for audit work to our offices in Bonn, Vienna and Prague. As you say, I saw the best and worst of all these cities.
The worst part was perhaps the poverty in some parts of the African towns. In Moscow, the worst part was that before the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’, life in the Communist countries was very harsh. There was nothing in the markets except for onions and potatoes. The people were suspicious of foreigners, it was very hard to get any cooperation in my job from the local workers.
In Jerusalem, it was very moving and awe-inspiring to be walking down those ancient, beige stone streets where Christ had walked and the Roman legions had conquered and ruled for so many years. But there was always the threat of terrorist bombings, and Israeli soldiers with machine guns were everywhere. They never smiled, and always had their finger on the trigger of their guns! It was sad, and quite scary.
But there were many compensations: all the cities had beauty, both natural beauty (Africa’s skies are spectacular). There are quite a few paintings of Africa in my show, and in them you will see that I was struck by the African vegetation and its variety.
Palm trees (which I love), riverbanks covered in ferns, and wild animals that I sometimes saw in the forests. Since I am above all a painter of nature, I was easily inspired to paint during these trips, and I did that on the weekends.
Why did you choose watercolours as your medium to paint?
I admired the watercolours of an artist who often visited Villa Savaric. He took me under his wing, and during the year that I was staying at Savaric, he and I often painted together. Much of what I know about the difficult technique of transparent watercolour painting I learnt from him. In fact, I have dedicated my exhibition to him. His name is Laurent Moonens.
How much has the art scene changed over the years?
I can only speak for France, and there it has actually not changed very much. There are hundreds of well-known and recognised modern artists in USA, UK and even in India. But in France, for some reason that I don’t know, the art scene is still quite traditional. This is so despite the fact that there are many galleries in Paris that only show ‘modern’ art — abstract works and sculptures.
But how many of those modern artists are internationally known? Almost none, that I can think of. We have no David Hockneys in France, no Razas, no Husseins and no Tyeb Mehtas.
How much has your style of painting or artwork changed over the years?
As mentioned, Moonens was my mentor and he did show me how to keep my details to a minimum. During the 1980’s, there was a period when ‘hyper realism’ became very popular all over the western world. I was greatly influenced by that movement, and a few of the pieces in my show are a reflection of that, notably a painting called ‘The Scuffle’, in which almost every blade of grass has been depicted in vivid green, and great detail and it’s visible on the face of an old woman sitting on a park chair observing three little boys scuffling on the grass.
Today, I am back to painting in a looser style, and my colour palette has changed. I find I am more drawn to mountainscapes again. Perhaps my art has come a full circle.
ST Reader Service
Catch the exhibition from February 15 - 26 at Darpan Art Gallery, Kala Chhaya Campus, Patrakar Nagar, 11 am - 7 pm.