Lorne Jackson speaks to a patron of the arts who is trying to raise the international profile of Indian painters.
Beauty queens the world over are famous for exhibiting their many precious gifts and talents.
They can smile at the drop of a hat, for instance.
Even when a hat hasn’t been dropped – and stays firmly on the head – those glam gals keep on grinning.
Beauty queens have numerous notable attributes, though few are famous for exhibiting a creative streak. Which is why Anjana Kuthiala stands out as a very rare talent indeed.
Kuthiala graced the catwalk in 1975, when she was a striking Miss India. In her more mature years, she has garnered a reputation for gracing canvases, with her equally striking paintings.
Now several of these paintings are to go on sale in Birmingham, as part of a thrilling and highly unusual auction of Asian art.
The extensive collection of contemporary Indian works will be sold by Birmingham-based auction house Biddle & Webb on November 19.
There are 30 pieces of art in a variety of mediums, including charcoal, acrylics, oil on canvas and chromatic prints.
The exhibition also encompasses a spectrum of artistic styles, such as abstract, impressionism, expressionism and figurative work.
The paintings were created by some of the most eminent and distinguished Asian artists.
Many of them have a following in both the private and corporate sector.
There are the paintings by Kuthiala, of course. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is best known for her depictions of beautiful women, though she has also received acclaim for exhibiting a series of 18 paintings of the actor and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, entitled A Poem of Art in Cinema.
Another major artist whose work will be going under the hammer is Sunil Das, who has been hailed as one of India’s most important post-modern expressionist artists, and won a prestigious Scholarship to attend Ecole National des Beaux Arts, awarded by the French government.
Also included in the collection are paintings by Arpana Caur, whose work examines the plight of women in a growing climate of violence in India. Her works are exhibited in the V&A in London and the Singapore Museum of Modern Art.
The collection going under the hammer belongs to Anjli Paul and her friend and business partner, Blory Chana. Both are great supporters and patrons of Asian arts and culture.
“The collection presents a unique opportunity for individual collectors to acquire something of rare beauty whilst also representing a good investment,” says Anjli Paul, who is the daughter of the Labour peer and chairman of Caparo steel, Lord Swraj Paul.
Anjli was born in India, in 1968, though she moved to Birmingham with her family at the age of eight. Her home is still in the city.
Over the years she has raised a family, worked for her father and set up several businesses of her own.
However, she has always had a passion for art, specifically the contemporary art created in the country of her birth.
Why is it so close to her heart?
“It appeals to me in a huge way,” she says. “Of course there is the strong emotional connection. It reminds me of my childhood and roots.
“But it’s not just that. I really think the art I’ve bought over the years is quite stunning.
‘‘Indian art is so vibrant and colourful.
‘‘I think it’s actually quite an unusual use of colour that you will find in Indian art. To me, European art is a little more simplistic.
‘‘Indian art also reflects the energy of the country. And it has a real spirituality, too, because obviously India is a very spiritual country with so many legends and stories.”
What made Anjli decide to start collecting the work of the former model Anjana Kuthiala?
“She has a gallery in Delhi and she came to me when she discovered that I was interested in collecting art. That’s one of the great things about India – everybody knows everybody. So when I wanted to start collecting art, it was very easy for me to get to know all the artists, too.
“For me that’s been one of the most special parts of collecting. Only when you get to know the artist do you really get that special insight into what their art is all about.
“Also, I love their passion. It’s just so endearing.”
Anjli first started collecting when she was in her early twenties. Trips to India fired her interest, plus she was setting up home for the first time and was keen to have exciting art to hang on her walls.
“Every trip I went, I would pick up something else,” she says.
But with such a love of Indian art, why has she now decided to sell her collection?
“I’m selling some of my collection, but not all. It’s not really about making money. I just think that Indian art needs to be promoted more on a world-wide stage.
“In the western world there are few people who know the value of Indian art, or who are even that interested in it. That’s a great shame, and something I really think should be changed.
“The works in the auction that I am promoting aren’t just from artists who are well known in India.
“I’ve also got a selection from artists who are young and aspiring, who show real promise.
“Hopefully this will create an interest in Indian art, and who knows where it will all end?
“I’d like to see more Indian art in Birmingham museums, especially since the city has such a prominent Indian community. There really just isn’t enough.
“It would be great if the city could have an Indian museum, or a section of a museum, perhaps.
“I’d also like to see more of the culture and art studied on the school curriculum.”
Anjli has strong contacts in the capital.
She could easily have chosen a London auction house for her art works. However, she was very keen on fostering a connection with her adopted home city.
She says: “I expressly wanted to keep the collection in the Midlands area rather than choose a London auction house, particularly because I feel Birmingham is the heart of multicultural Britain.
‘‘It may be dubbed the second city, but I think it is the most culturally vibrant place, where people respect, admire and even embrace the traditions and heritage of others.
‘‘That’s not to say that holding the sale in Birmingham will prohibit avid collectors from all over the world from acquiring any of the pieces in the collection.”
Anjli hopes that members of the Midlands Asian community will show an interest in buying the works.
However, she says that in the past, the local Indian community has not shown much interest in collecting art from the country with which they have such close connections.
“When I started collecting, I noticed that there weren’t that many other Asians who shared my interest in collecting Indian artists,” she says. “Amongst the community there was an interest in having Asian artefacts scattered around the house, but not so much Asian art on the walls.
“Most people in this country aren’t even aware of the top names. So it will be nice if I can help to raise awareness of all the great art that’s out there.”
Of course, the economy is at a low point at the moment. So is this the best time for introducing fresh forms of art to the people of the Midlands?
“I’m aware that there is a recession,” says Anjli. “So I’m not sure how the auction is going to go. However, I’ve got to emphasise that people buying wonderful pieces of art aren’t just throwing their money away.
“There is an intrinsic value in what is being offered. Great art doesn’t depreciate in value. But it’s not just that. There really is so much enjoyment that you can get out of all these paintings.
“I’ve certainly had great pleasure with these works of art, now I’m very happy to be giving other people the chance to have that same amount of happiness.”
Biddle & Webb’s managing director Jeremy Thornton said there was still a market for art.
“Especially if it is good quality and well priced. The top end, better quality pieces still sell well. It’s actually easier to sell a £10, 000 item than a £100 item.
“There are still people out there with money and a passion for art.”
He also said that he felt very privileged to handle such a sought-after and unique collection of contemporary art.
“Given the provenance of the collection, and Anjli Paul’s widely acclaimed knowledge of Asian art, I think the auction will attract people from all over the UK and much further afield. I think it promises to be a really exciting sale and will generate a flurry or interest.”
* The collection will be auctioned at Biddle & Webb on November 19. To view a selection of the paintings in the sale click on: http://www.biddleandwebb.co.uk/starlots.cfm