A walk through award-winning artist Michael Adams’s gallery in Mahé takes you across the length and breadth of the Seychelles archipelago. By Kiran Mehta
There were streaks of fiery orange, hints of soothing pink, and a scattering of yellow over
the blue sky. Another picture framed a dusky purple sky filled with twinkling silver stars. This wasn’t a painting feeding off someone’s imagination of utopia; it was dusk on Anse Source d’Argent—reputed to be one of the most photographed beaches in the world—that I’d framed on my camera. Waxing lyrical on this ample beauty, my guide proclaimed, “There’s a sunset just as gorgeous every day. Don’t miss out on too many of them.”
Over the next few days, I saw beauty everywhere in Seychelles. I was in awe of the dramatic rust-coloured rock boulders that sit on talcum sands. They come with a surreal
backstory. Millions of years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, a geological shift broke up the supercontinent of Gondwana. These gigantic rocks owe their formation to that ancient event. The adventurous can hike to the top to take in the view of azure waters; the timid can click a picture at the base. Or, let your imagination run wild and find patterns in the boulders; often, names such as ‘Pig Rock’ give them away.
Locals will point you to the Vallée de Mai on Praslin island, a nature reserve and UNESCO
heritage site. British General Charles Gordon first laid eyes on it in the 18th century. So taken in was he by the sheer beauty of this lush patch—home to the endemic coco de mer and black parrot—that he believed he had stepped into the Garden of Eden. Gordon’s views seemed to be strengthened by a Kabbalistic perspective of the Book of Genesis.
In a land where you can find such colourful legends and picture-perfect settings, can the artists be far behind? At Kaz Zanana, a beautiful, wooden gallery and cafe, you can admire paintings by famous local artist George Camille that depict the island’s spirit and everyday life, while you feast on a sumptuous Creole lunch of breadfruit salad and spicy prawn curry with rice, washed down with a SeyBrew lager.
But no art lover’s visit to Seychelles is complete without stepping into the art gallery of Michael Adams at Anse aux Poules Bleues in Mahé. As I walk in, I’m greeted by a scene from a Sega performance. It may be on paper, yet it seems so fluid that I can almost hear the music. I see the women of Seychelles dressed in the ‘Zip and Kazak’, a traditional long skirt with a shirt in prints inspired by nature. I wish to catch the conversation in their lilting accents. I see the ‘little Ben’, a miniature replica of London’s Big Ben—a reminder of the colonial era, and a landmark in Mahé.
“Seychelles is my muse,” says British-born Michael Adams who shifted to the island in 1972. And it wasn’t a planned move that brought the artist and his wife, Heather, here. Adams had studied at the Royal College of Art in London. In his final year, he was chosen to start the graphics department at Makerere University in Uganda. Later, Michael began freelancing, and his work took him to neighbouring Kenya, where he met his would-be wife. “It was a precarious time, with the apartheid. One day, an acquaintance said, ‘you should go to Seychelles. It’s really beautiful,’ and so we did!” Later the couple found out that this particular acquaintance had never been to Seychelles himself. “It was fate,” says Adams
with a hearty laugh. A series of happy accidents led Adams to spearhead an artistic movement in Seychelles. “This was the very first art gallery to open in independent Seychelles. So, I was chosen by the government to represent the island nation at a Commonwealth exhibition.” Ever since there’s been no looking back for him. In 2001, Adams was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the arts in Seychelles.
In his early years, Adams spent a great deal of time in the Victoria Botanical Gardens. “I’d sit on the ground there for hours and paint away.” He refers to his style of art as ‘Atmospheric Impressionism.’ One look around the gallery and I understand the term. A silkscreen of the Vallée de Mai plays out the legend of coco de mer (‘coconut of the sea’ in French). The mature nut of coco de mer resembles parts of the female anatomy, and Adams captures its bountiful curves. Folklore has it that on stormy nights, the male trees veer towards the females. And suddenly, it seems as if the trees in the paintings are swaying. I can see them locked in a passionate embrace. Elaborating on his love for trees, Adams tells me, “In the early years, every time I heard the sound of a chainsaw cutting a tree, I’d rush there to buy it and save it.”
The waterfalls of Port Launay, too, are captured on his canvas—in serene hues of blue and green with hints of rust-coloured rocks. There are children happily splashing away; couples on the Beau Vallon beach; even a bird like the red fody, which attacks native flora and fauna, is captured bewitchingly in bright red strokes and evokes a sense of wonder.
Look closer, and you’ll notice that Adams’ brush can sometimes alter the geography of Seychelles. The Veuve Reserve, home of the rare black paradise fly-catcher, is sometimes placed in La Digue, where it belongs. At other times, it pops up on one of the other islands in the archipelago. A waterfall turns up on a dry patch. Adams uses his creative license to create his own version of the country he loves.
Apart from painting the archipelago, the octogenarian, who now rarely travels outside the island, also sketches his past journeys from memory. I see black-and-white sketches of the Taj Mahal from a trip he took years ago to Agra; a villager from Jaipur is captured in his
colourful turban; colonial-era buildings dot the landscape of India. Scenes from various other continents spring up: the Sydney Harbour Bridge by night, and snatches of rural England, among others.
“I get to live these journeys over and over through my work,” says the painter. For a tourist in Seychelles, a walk through his gallery presents all the hues of the nation. Bring back a print or a painting, and you’ll find yourself taken back to your trip in the blink of an eye.
Air Seychelles operates direct flights from Mumbai to Mahé. From other major metros in India, fly into Mumbai on Jet Airways, which has a code-share agreement with Air Seychelles for your onward journey.
The luxurious Savoy Resort & Spa sits smack on Beau Vallon, the most popular beach in Mahé. Nature fits seamlessly into the architecture—balconies open up to greenery. In the midst of the greens lies the pool, and just beyond are mountain ranges and the ocean.
The property comes with five restaurants, where you can dig into Creole delicacies, ask for an Indian meal, or pick from Chinese, Continental, and other cuisines. Head to one of the two bars or head to the spa for a relaxing massage. From Rs 33,690