Tuesday, August 24, 2010


What do a lawyer and an artist have in common?

This may sound like the opening line of a bad joke but in this particular case there is a more serious motive because that is the very question I ask myself as I head to inner city Darwin for an appointment with Deevya Desai.

Deevya is, in fact, both artist and lawyer and I am intrigued by the possibilities. Although my perception of artists has changed over the past months, my estimation of lawyers still wavers. Still, I approach my task with an open mind – almost.

A young woman answers to my knock and I am almost tempted to ask if her mother is home. But Deevya is expecting me and her greeting saves me from a forthcoming faux pas.

Deevya’s appearance is deceptive. Her slight stature may well be mistaken for something less that she is. But the instant she begins to speak you know you are dealing with a force to be reckoned with. There is a confidence and precision in her voice that, I thought, may serve her well at the bench. ‘I’m interested in business law, actually. I don’t have strong ambitions to ‘climb the ladder’ at the moment.’ My curiosity gets the better of me.

‘How do a lawyer and an artist occupy the same space?’ I ask.

‘Law is quite creative. There are many paths to follow.Fitting that to the needs of the client can be very creative.’ There is a note of jurisprudence in her manner that convinces me not to present an opposing argument.

For Deevya, the art came first. She has a head start on most, having first been introduced to drawing by her mother at the age of four. Her creativity was encouraged by her parents, her time in Venuatu and other exotic places and her ability to gain extra grades for well illustrated assignments at school. I wonder if her teachers realised they were being duped. Probably not.
Her approach to her art is quite rigorous. She considers herself self-taught although she has attended the odd workshop and her mother seemed to have influenced her considerably. Deevya practices. She sees developing her skills as a draughts-person is a pre-requisite to furthering her artistic ability and creativity. ‘I need to be able to control the strokes’ and she points to a Rodin portrait she is ‘copying’; for practice, I must add. ‘If you look here you can see I haven’t quite got the control I need to……’ and I agree for fear of showing my ignorance. The evidence is there, apparently, and I am not in a position to argue.

Her home is devoid of the usual clutter of the artist except for the easel in the corner of the room holding her ‘practice’.

‘I like things in their place, and I work alone. Peace and quiet is essential.' There are a few of her paintings hanging and we discuss each one as we pass. ‘I would much prefer to have other artists' work in my home’. William Turner and Sam Wade are mentioned. I hope lawyers are paid well. Maybe divorse law would be a better option. There is a strong emotional content in each of her pieces displayed. ‘I get my ideas from the things I see. As I paint I endeavour to present how I felt at the time I saw the subject.’ Her emotional content is somewhat esoteric but it seems unnecessary for the viewer to gain that perspective. Deevya neither cherishes her completed works  nor concerns herself with how others see it. She is content with the journey. As I have discovered, she is not alone in her thinking.

Her journey to this point has been short but rich. There is a youthfulness about her work and her subjects that is vibrant and unmistakable. Her strong use of warm colours emphasizes that vigour. Her search for precision in her craft and her career seem to go hand in hand. The lawyer and the artist can, in fact, occupy the same space at the same time without the need for a punch line.

I vaguely remember being twenty something and, realizing life was ahead of me, pondering the future. I ask the question of Deevya: ‘If all things were equal, what would you do now?’

‘Travel’. Of course.

‘And where would you go first?’ She ponders for a moment.

‘Melbourne’. And all my hopes for the future of humankind are dashed. Deevya sees my disappointment and tries a recovery gesture. ‘Then Europe,’ but it sounds more like a question than a destination. Still, she is young. She may know a great deal about art and law but a quick lesson in geography would not go astray.

It may seem a strong judgment to make, but as I leave Deevya to her craft, I feel like I have just viewed a painting that is ‘a work in progress’. There is a quality about her work that needs a softer edge; an aging process that comes with discovering and knowing oneself. It’s about the knowledge we look back with when we reach the other end of our life and say to ourselves: ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’. But that’s what it’s all about, after all. Doing what we love most and learning as we go.

Deevya has the enviable task of doing what I can’t do again: grow old. I have only had the good fortune of seeing what she can do now. I can only imagine what she is capable of doing in the next fifty years. Someone else will have that pleasure and I have no doubt it will be worth waiting for.

Thanks Deevya.

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