Maya Rao and her husband Aigars Liepins need not go far for inspiration. Peepletree, their art gallery is surrounded by ferns, shrubs and wild trees. A mother cat and her new born kittens enliven the private garden. The artist couple draws heavily on the natural world.
“When the lockdown happened, it was quite amazing. The environment was very quiet and our garden was full of birds. Kingfishers would come and catch fishes in our pond. Doves would roost in our garden,’’ says Liepins who is originally from Latvia.
Zooropia, an exhibition of works of Liepeins and Rao that is currently on display at Peepletree, make you smile, laugh and think. The acrylic, mixed media and collage works transport you to a make-believe world wherein kangaroos enjoy a cup of tea peacefully and cats fly to the moon.
Sometimes Liepins and Rao go on bike rides and explore the world outside. “ Once we went to North Karnataka on the way to Goa. Over there we saw those sunflower fields,’’ says Rao pointing to one of her paintings. Instead of taking photographs, Rao stayed there and absorbed that image in her mind and came back and painted like a woman possessed. “The windmills behind the sunflower fields, from a distance, looked like huge flowers swaying in the wind,’’ she recalls.
Rao studied architecture before pursuing her passion. She is more inclined towards landscapes and plants and Liepins gets inspired by animals and birds. He observes and cherishes the little things in his garden. Nature is full of drama, says Liepins. “Once a monkey was sitting on our fence and a dog was barking like crazy. The monkey just ignored the dog.” The action packed moments in the garden is depicted beautifully in one of his paintings.
Rao loves bright colours. Her work titled 'Flame of the Forest' was inspired by a wildfire in Bandipur. “On the hill, a huge fire was burning. There were no leaves. Everything had turned into ash.” Liepins turns the mundane into magical. When one of his favourite silk shirts started to disintegrate, he used it to cover the canvas. He creates art out of even worn out duppattas and old denim jeans.
“Are you able to make a living out of this?,” I ask. “I’d say not consistently,” quips Rao. “But you can if you are persistent. Sometimes you have to find the right collectors who resonate with your kind of work. When you build up a relationship with them, then it becomes obviously much easier,” she adds.
Rao looks out of the window even as she talks to me. She is worried about one of her kittens that disappeared two days ago. “ This is the life of stray cats. I don’t know whether they were run over or bitten by other cats,” she says with a heavy heart.