The frescoes on the wall inside the Arabica Café on Grey St in downtown Wellington catch the eye with their bright colours.
A brief note on plain paper pasted on the wall introduces the artist.
The ensemble of colour and text on the wall is deceptively modest.
The customers lost in animated conversation around Parisian-style café tables can hardly be blamed for failing to notice that the artist in question is arguably one of Aotearoa’s finest talents, and a former vice-president of Watercolours New Zealand, the apex body dedicated to promoting watercolour painting in this country.
Pavithra Devadatta was elected to the post in 2010 but vacated it six months later to pursue her passion for painting, freed from the trappings of office.
It was her way of going back to the drawing board, guided by the vision of her late father, David Punita, himself an accomplished artist living in Bangalore, South India.
Pavithra drew inspiration from her statistician father, who painted in his free time and taught his daughter how to hold the brush.
Pavithra brought that early childhood influence with her when she moved to Wellington to join her husband Paul in 1991.
As a painter, Pavithra is pulled by opposite trends.
The Indian art scene is different from that of NZ as Bharat Natyam is distinct from ballet.
On her visits to India, Pavithra noticed that painters there were open to experimentation, playing around with the medium in a way that was missing in the NZ art world.
Kiwi artists are generally tradition-bound, and fastidious. For instance, the pigment for the watercolour is preferably imported only from the UK.
“My father used to say you must be ready to paint even with decoction, if you must,” Pavithra recalls.
“There is a lot of importance given to the experience of creating art in India,” Pavithra notes. “Art is a journey. My father used to say it’s not about creating a piece of art that lasts for hundreds of years. Art is more about self-expression.”
Pavithra says she is comfortable with both the traditional and experimental schools of art. “Both are a journey of self-discovery.”
Her interaction with the local artist community is limited to Watercolour New Zealand, which allows artists to gather for exhibitions and events.
“ Splash” is the watercolour exhibition held annually that draws artists from all over NZ.
But Pavithra likes to look beyond the numerous awards she has won and the solo exhibitions she has held. Her motivating force is to awaken the artist in every child.
This life quest began in 2014 when she visited a children’s home in Madurai in South India.
“Children are fearless in their approach to art,” she observes. “Adults are too self-critical, which holds them back.”
Pavithra enjoys working with children and running workshops for them. But the guiding light in her life and career remains her father.
“The first stroke you put on the canvas begins the conversation between the artist and the work of art,” she recollects her father advising her. “You must follow that conversation till it stops. That is when you must lay down your brush.”
Though Pavithra has done exhibitions in oil painting, her involvement is essentially with watercolour.
Her advice to anyone drawn to art is straightforward: “I would encourage people to just bring out what is inside you. It does not have to be a portrait, or a landscape or a still life. It can be just abstract, just an expression.”
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