He came, he saw and he painted. Desmond Doig, author, journalist, architect, landscape designer, artist left crowded and crumbling Calcutta to the emerald valley of Kathmandu in 1975 and made it his home.
In the next eight years Doig painted hundreds of water colours of Kathmandu's temples, bahals, street scenes. His artist eyes were mesmerised by Kathmandu's beauty, especially its colours and light. It was love at first sight and the paintings and sketches on display at Siddhartha Art Gallery this week show Doig's view of the Valley was coloured by this affair.
When he died in 1983 the artist left behind a trove of sketches and water colours. Some of them went into private collections, others were in the safekeeping of Desmond's friend Dubby Bhagat who put them together in the book of drawings and writings, My Kind of Kathmandu in 1995.
"What distinguishes Doig as an artist is his spontaneity," explains Siddhartha's Sangeeta Thapa who organised the exhibit, "Doig did not copy these images from photographs or other paintings. He painted them as he saw them."
Indeed, the exhibition is a pilgrimage to Kathmandu's past and a glimpse of the treasures that were vanishing even back then in the early 1980s. Desmond had fled Calcutta to escape the squalour and because he could do nothing to stem the rot because, as he told us, "I am neither a revolutionary nor a missionary".
But he saw the blight spreading to his beloved Valley as well. He yearned for the less-concrete previous Kathmandu where the streets were all flagstoned and the houses were "all mellowed brick and russet tile and weathered wood".
The Doigs display a fascination for Kathmandu's light: the explosion of emerald in the monsoon, the ochre-and-white doll houses at Baudhha, the blinding white cumulus towering over purple hills on the Valley rim, the mysterious holy light that bathes a Pashupati morning.
You notice that Doig studiously avoids the ugly. The loving brush strokes on temples, the meticulous detail of tufts of grass growing out of their tiles, the mounds of golden harvest drying on the square. The paintings capture Kathmandu before the rot set in: the texture of the fields, trees and hills the languid sky, harvests suffused in gold, the dreamlike quality of late afternoon light on Ganesh Himal framed in red-yellow farm houses and the
near-impressionistic jumble of triangulated temple roofs. The paintings record for posterity the light and colours that struck the retina of an artist's eye 25 years ago in Kathmandu.
On a rare clear evening these days when the smog does not envelop the Valley, you can still see what Desmond saw: the snow peaks to the north turning from silver to gold to lavender and the past still shines through.
The Desmond Doig Exhibition
At the Siddhartha Art Galley, 4411122
22 November-6 December