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Olaf Van Cleef’S Bejewelled Creations Dazzle Once More

Rita Bhimani

His own lineage is what has given Olaf Van Cleef the edge to initially introduce Cartier to India, when he would come to Calcutta armed with his expertise as counsellor for the high-range Cartier jewelry. For Olaf comes from the illustrious Van Cleef family who were jewelers to the Czars, and now, using his prowess in this field, he has branched out into the realm of art. You have to be in love with a country to bring out what its gods and goddesses, mythology and the natural habitat and people mean to you—enough to translate it all into some exquisite creations. Done with minute crystals, and semi-precious stones, on antique paper and using fine-tipped pens and water colors, embedding also chocolate wrappers, these are excellent collectibles. And over the years his Ganeshas have found their way into the prayer rooms of the fab and famous.

Curated by Aban Desai, owner of Calcutta’s newest Range Gallery, the show at Taj Bengal had a wide elemental range, embracing the pretty imagery that nature presents with its butterflies, lotuses,  palm trees, even frogs on the one hand, and on the other giving out some powerful vibes when the elephant strides into the canvases. Some of them are triple-headed, and one even has that touch of a Frida Kahlo portrait with a floral bunch tipped on top of the head, not of a woman, but of the elephant! These pachyderms roam everywhere on his paintings, sometimes in conjunction with Ganesha himself, and with butterflies floating about, and cranes taking center stage.

At this exhibition, the Burmese people-scapes, showing their typical attire and with pagodas looming in the background, found instant buyers. One of the fascinating paintings was of the Kamakhya temple, where a peacock preened itself in the foreground. Olaf said that he loved the great Brahmaputra there, as well as the myriads of butterflies, which are a trademark of the state.  And which emerge from the silk worm--to him this is where he finds the origin of the rich muga silk of Assam.

Olaf ‘s artistic vision and work have spread all over the country and the last time he was in the city, we were to witness his work done on royal commission in Bhutan, with paintings of the Buddha. And just before he came for his current exhibition in Calcutta, he had immersed himself in designing the Jagaddhatri Puja in Chandannagore.

The prices average Rs. 1.50 lakhs, (35 cm x 60 cm) with some smaller works on paper (17 x 25 cm) going for just Rs. 25,000 each. The faux antique framing gives an opulent touch. Most of the works have already found buyers, but a display is on at the Taj lounge for a couple of days.