Moving around and admiring pieces of art from the portraits of prominent Zimbabwean exhibition and the Born Free young artist exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe , a one legged old man on crutches with the kindest eyes approached me and asked me where I was from. I smiled and looked into his eyes and wondered who he was, there was a kind of calmness around him. I proceeded to tell him I was from the UK and I was on the look out for emerging artist in Zimbabwe.
He introduced himself as Thakor Patel and told me he was an 80 year old artist and proceeded to give me his number and address and invited me to come over and check out his collection. I was intrigued and wondered how he moved around easily on his crutches. He asked me if I wanted to meet the Executive director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and I said yes, but thought to myself what the hell I was going to say when I met her!! We made our way up a few flights of stairs and I was amazed how he moved around so freely, talking as we went. I was out of breath, but he was going on and on in a good way:) Unfortunately when we arrived the Executive director was not there. I was a little bit relieved.
I returned to my hotel, but I could not get Mr Patel out of my mind, how did he loose his leg? what kind of art did he produce? How long has he lived in Zimbabwe? These were thoughts running through my mind. I decided to take him up on his offer and visit him the next day.
I made my way to Belvedere, interestingly a lot of places in Harare are named after places in the UK. We arrived at a block of flats and Mr Patel was already waiting downstairs, he led me to the 2nd floor to his apartment, where he lives alone, as his wife has passed on and all his children live abroad. On entry, I immediately noticed how immaculate the flat was, which to me was not typical of an artist space. I made a mental note to clean my house when I got back:)
He led the way to his living room and told me to make myself comfortable. I stood and did a 360 degrees as my eyes gazed upon the architectural looking artwork with simple clear cut lines and symbols, which all had a calming effect. The colours were subdue and soothing. This was totally not what I was expecting, as most of the artwork I had seen so far were of vibrant colours.
I proceed to make myself feel comfortable by sitting on the floor, he brought piles of artwork on paper, which were all organised in categories and the year of production. We talked about his early days and his inspirations.
Thakor Patel is an 80 year old artist originally from India. He has resided in Harare most of his life. In his early years, he started his creative pursuit as a musician playing the violin and flute. He was teased as a child because of his one leg disability, which he lost as a child due to lack of early medical attention.
He was told he will never be able to study art, but he was adamant and wanted to prove his naysayers wrong. He graduated from school of art Bombay with a first class in the late 50’s. Mr Patel started off as a landscape painter, but on arriving in Harare, he moved towards producing abstract works. He decided to do something different and unique, as he wanted an element of individualism in his work with the intention of standing out from the works associated with Zimbabwean art and it worked.
He has had numerous exhibitions across the globe spanning a successful 50 years art career and is a residence artist at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. His works are in private collections in diverse places ranging from Germany, Russia, Jamaica, India, U.S, UK to name a few.
He has engaged in different forms of art using a wide range of materials and media. He enjoys travelling and told me of an amazing time he had during his visit to Japan, his eyes lit up as he was telling his story. It was during his visit that he got the bug to create 3 dimensional art and focused more on installations and creating sculptures for a period a time.
His current works involves the use of symbols, representation of life and culture. He draws inspiration from everyday experiences and expands on them to make it his own. As we were going through his collections of work, I was wondering if I will be able to afford any of his pieces. Most of the works I liked, he mentioned were not for sale, but I found this work, which caught my attention and I was delighted it was for sale and at an affordable price, which I purchased. Mr Patel wrapped this piece up nicely.
It was time for me to go, Mr Patel provided me lots of printouts of articles he has been featured in over the years, which was an interesting read. I was honoured to be in the presence of a legendary artist of Zimbabwe, what struck me the most during my time with Mr Patel was that he was making sure his children had a piece of his legacy through his art.
Mr Patel is currently working on 30 pieces of art for an exhibition later this year. Watch this space for more information.