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Queens Village painter wants sponsor for show

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But first he must find a benefactor.

"I'm looking for a sponsor," said the Indian-born painter during a recent interview in his home. "I cannot pay for a gallery."

Sajnani charges only $500 for his works, most sized 2 feet by 3 feet, but $100 of that usually goes toward the cost of the frame. India Saree Palace, a Jackson Heights clothier, will donate the frames for Sajnani's planned show, but he is still looking for a corporate sponsor to pay for the gallery space rental. Past benefactors of the events, which can cost as much as $10,000, have included Fleet Bank and the Indian Tourist Office.

At his shows, 99 percent of the paintings are usually sold, Sajnani said. The few landscapes he exhibits sell like "hotcakes," but while they are easy to create, he does not like them.

"I don't feel it," Sajnani said. "I don't like it, but I do it."

His passion, he said, is cubism, his style conveyed in deep-hued oils and influenced by George Kegt, a Sri Lankan artist, and Pablo Picasso. But compared with Picasso's angles, Sajnani's lines are more rounded, creating a sense of motion and cohesion.

"In my art you'll find a lot of rhythm," he said while flipping through photos of his creations, some of which are painted in a mosaic-style that gives the impression of stained glass.

Sajnani's subjects range from Indian folk tales to scenes from everyday life, both back in his homeland, which he visits yearly, and around Queens Village. He takes a small notebook out with him every day, making quick sketches of things he sees at places such as the market and the doctor's office. He has collected shelves full of the little pads, and when it comes time for a new creation he picks one or two as a starting point.

"All cannot be good," he said of his selection process, explaining that he is constantly seeking out new material. "I hate to grab from the old masters. I want to take from my own mind."

After passing the state art exam in India as an 11-year-old, Sajnani went on to study at The Royal Drawing Society of London and to become the only artist employed by the National Museum in Delhi. Visitors there included Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. Sajnani also won a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization grant to study art in Southeast Asia and in 1967 came to the United States for the first time through a Rockefeller Fellowship to the Pratt Institute.

Sajnani remained in the city and took a job in the Manhattan office of Air India, where he worked for more than 30 years. He continued to paint but did not always have enough free time.

If he had not taken the position, "I might have done a better job" with art, Sajnani said, noting that he had turned down opportunities because of his commitments at the office.

In 1998 he retired from Air India and now devotes all of his time to painting. He has not had a show since 1995 and hopes his upcoming exhibit will again sell out, once he finds a sponsor.

Until then, he toils away in his tiny basement, sometimes sneaking down in the middle of the night, and dreams about moving to Long Island and setting up a proper studio. The space would be big enough to work with larger canvasses, enabling him to more fully convey scenes of Indian village life.

"If it is bigger, your ideas go big," he said.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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