He was DEFINITELY one of my most amazing and eccentric clients, the great Indian artist M.F. Husain. He was Topic A in any discussion with other artist clients I had at the time in New York, including the great sports artist LeRoy Neiman.
We would observe Husain’s unique eccentricities, his sublime unusualness as he strode like a prophet right out of the Bible onto the streets of Manhattan wearing his white linen robe, walking barefooted on freezing pavement, his thick white hair flowing in the winter wind. I helped to make him even more famous for painting Mother Teresa’s blue and white veil flowing in divine breezes.
To say “what a character” was Husain would be the ultimate understatement. He was a true artist with deep contradictions with his penchant for erotica and then his soaring adoration for this holy icon of his native India, Mother Teresa, today a beloved saint.
“I have tried to capture in my paintings what her presence meant to the destitute and the dying, the light and hope she brought by mere inquiry, by putting her hand over a child abandoned in the street,” said Husain
In his life, Husain had done many series and one of these was Mother Teresa, for which my PR firm, TransMedia Group, was hired to arrange a vernissage at the Pierre Cardin’s Evolution Gallery on 57th St. that was probably the most triumphant, but terrifying event I’ve ever produced and promoted.
What made me think of India and Husain was watching the film Gandhi the other night starring Ben Kingsley who gives the most astonishing biographical performance in screen history. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.
Forgive me for bragging, but the vernissage we did in New York for my artist client Husain also probably deserved an Academy Award considering it drew a stunning “A List” of attendees including then UN Secretary General and a crowd of New York luminaries, celebrities and, of course, press.
We got the artist featured on New York television and radio stations the week of his opening and handled every detail of the vernissage from ordering the champagne to turning out the art press in New York. We persuaded Cardin’s gallery to host the party and we got then U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and other dignitaries to accept our invitations to the lavish reception.
And we came within a brush stroke of creating an international scandal and perhaps the biggest disaster in art history.
Hanging the art
We had hired Baron Philippe de Moyer de Lasheraine to hang the show for us. About two hours before the reception was to start, Pierre Cardin walked in and was aghast. He yelled that we had defiled his gallery. “Take them all down,” he ordered. “I won’t have my gallery disgraced.”
We looked at one another dumbfounded. Cardin complained we had hung the pictures all wrong. Big pieces should be in the front, not hidden in the back. How stupid of us. The way Cardin carried on, it was as if we had pulled Mother Teresa into his salon and mugged her.
I asked maestro Cardin how he would have conducted the picture hanging and he said the large picture, pointing his artful index finger to an idyllic space over the entrance, “IT GOES THERE!” he shouted. Baron Philippe saw the light and we both heard the lightening. He rushed to get the large paining. I went for the ladder. We hung it exactly where Cardin had pointed. “How’s that?” I asked the maestro.
He was now pacing, holding his chin in one hand, in deep and perturbed contemplation. The red scarf draped over his shoulders flapped angrily at us. Waiting for the verdict, we cringed. Minutes were ticking away. The secretary general was probably putting his bowtie on already. I could imagine the U.N. demanding to know what PR firm was responsible for this profound insult to India, to Mother Teresa and to God almighty. Cardin turned and looked up at the large picture. “Yes!” he said. We all breathed again. “And put that one over there.”
He barked and we obeyed.
I could see Cardin beginning to rearrange all the pictures in his enveloping mind. “And this one goes there. That one there!” he commanded. The finality, the decisiveness of the general’s commands were awesome. He was in complete control of the battlefield and we were his devoted warriors. And if he wished, we would hurl ourselves upon his sword for in less than two hours, we had re-hung nearly 60 works of art. It was miraculous.
Mother Teresa’s veils were still flapping when we opened the doors. Grandly Cardin greeted the press, spoke eloquently about Husain’s art, which he had almost thrown out the door in a rage.
And he waxed poetic about his deep affection for Mother Teresa, whose veils had flapped around that day as vigorously as Cardin’s scarf.
A PR Masterpiece
The press we got was so wonderful that other galleries hired us for their openings, including Edward Nahamkin Fine Arts and the Dyansen Gallery in Soho, where I met the prima ballerina Makarova, the prodigy pianist VanCliburn and the scarred and tortured Russian painter Chemiakin, whom I booked on TV though he spoke not a word of English.
And a steely German lady invited us to produce an art show in her $10 million apartment on the 64th floor of Trump Tower where she was building a swimming pool directly under the future President’s apartment.
We called that event “Art in the Sky” benefitting young people in Jewish studies programs with living memorial scholarships, each one given in the name of a child who died in the Holocaust. Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum asked me to do the PR for his Foundation for Future Generations. Because I was a non-Jew helping Jews, he called me one of the “Righteous.” So I owe Cardin many thanks for all those accounts.
Back to Husain for some final brush strokes
The venerated figure of Mother Teresa first appeared in Husain’s art in 1980. Since then the numerous canvases dedicated to the subject of Mother Teresa stand as testimony to the profound impact the saint had on the artist’s life and work.
While often depicted as a faceless entity, these paintings explore notions not only of the Mother Teresa herself, but of motherhood in general, from the biblical Virgin Mary to Husain’s own mother who died when he was very young.
Husain repeatedly borrows elements from Renaissance painting and sculpture in these compositions, and quotes the pointed arches of cathedral architecture in this work. His handling of clothing also picks up on the 15th century Italian preoccupation with realism in the representation of drapery and the folds of ecclesiastical robes in this work.
Husain’s 2005 canvas of Mother Teresa in the typical posture of La Pieta was an image that haunted him long after he saw its original in Italy and then painted in later years after he met Mother Teresa is an impassioned work. “I call her the eternal figure,” says Husain, “She was the modern Madonna, who embraced the poor and the destitute as her own, for me she is a timeless figure, I will never get tired of painting her.”
Husain died on June 9, 2011 in London. God rest his artistic soul as he is now no doubt with his idol, Mother Teresa.
I would have loved to have had Husain draw pictures of Donald Trump for my book “Is there enough Brady in Trump to win the inSUPERable BOWL?” available on Amazon.