He's an Australian artist with Germanic roots and a studio in France.
But now Kevin Pearsh is developing his internationalism even further – by bringing his unique study of India’s spiritual Ganges river to Birmingham.
Ganga 21 captures the Ganges from its source deep in the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal more than 1,500 miles away.
With an Indian guide always with him, Kevin photographed more than 2,000 scenes and made hundreds of watercolours using Ganges water before choosing the best 21 to turn into oil canvases.
Kevin’s journey began in the spring of 2006 in a remote ice cave at Gaumukh, high in the snow-capped mountains.
From there he hiked to Gangotri, resuming the journey in October by boat and road to reach Varanasi. A third mission in 2007 saw him reach the Ganges Delta, where the river meets the Indian Ocean. Ganga 21 has had three exhibitions to date in India, but this is its first – and only appearance – in the UK.
Born in Melbourne in 1951, Kevin attended fine art school in Perth before spending a decade in London from 1972.
By the age of 25, he had works within the permanent collections of Tate. He moved to Burgundy in France after being commissioned by American Diplomat Robert H Thayer to paint his 12th century chateau there in 1982.
“As an adult, I’ve spend more time in India than I have in Australia,” says Kevin.
“I first went in 1978 and it’s a fascinating country. In Australia you can very quickly be on your own, but in India within 10 minutes people will have joined you. People also think the Ganges is deep, but it’s only two metres deep until much further south. Depending on rainfall, it can be very wide or go back to nothing.
“I’d go swimming in it every day, though only in the flowing parts not where it stagnates.”
Kevin’s paintings capture everything from the geography of the river – palm trees signal extra warmth – to its human spirituality and even the legacy of industrial development. In one painting, a colourful item in the water is not a romantic depiction of a petal, but a piece of plastic.
The Howrah Bridge, in Calcutta, was the world’s third longest cantilever bridge when commissioned in 1943, while the Ganga Sagar painting shows where India’s second longest river meets the sea.
“This was a journey I wanted to make and even Indians had never seen the river depicted like this before.
“I noticed how the light was always diffused – as if there’s a screen over the sun all of the time – and that a lot of blue was always coming through.”
Now planning to extend his work by visiting Bangladesh next year, Kevin hopes the collection will always stay together. “I see them as a timeless collection of pictures that will mature.”
* Kevin Pearsh, Ganga 21 is at the Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until November 18. Admission free. Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 10am-5pm; Friday 10.30am-5pm, weekends 10am-5pm.