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Creative route to fame

Dhinakara Sundar's forte to paint on lotus leaves took him to Japan on a fellowship, where he learnt their ancient tradition of wood block printing and sumi painting. His creations are on show at the DBS Galleria from September 6 to 8.

IT WAS indeed a rare opportunity for young artist Dhinakara Sundar from Chennai to have got the fellowship from Bunkacho Agency of Cultural Affairs, Tokyo, to go to Japan for a year from June 2001, and study their ancient tradition of wood block printing and also teach those interested there to paint on lotus leaves, a method he had invented.

The technique of wood block printing originated in China and was introduced in Japan over 120 years ago, according to Dr. Masao Takenaka, through whose help Dhinakara was not only able to observe but also learn the ancient Japanese traditional techniques of calligraphy and sumi painting. The art of calligraphy is practised avidly even today by the Japanese.

While Dr. Takenaka taught calligraphy to Dhinakara, he arranged for world famous artist Akira Kurosaki to teach him sumi painting and wood block printing. In sumi, they use mostly a single colour, that is, black, and only once in a while, just a couple of other tints. But with that minimal approach itself, they bring out the strength of the figure/s depicted through the specialised technique. After learning the technique, Dhinakara applied brighter watercolours to create sumi paintings, which were highly appreciated. In fact, he did a few sumi paintings on lotus leaves too. For the wood block printing, a special type of wood is used which while being quite strong also enables engraving clear lines with special tools. The printing is done by hand and not in a press. To create a single multicolour composition and achieve depth, several blocks would be needed, as in traditional techniques of etching. Kurosaki also taught Dhinakara how to use the needle and choose the right kind of wood for the block.

An alumnus of the College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, Dhinakara, while aiming to do something different, chose to try painting on lotus leaf. Through his experience in print making, he experimented with a few ideas before settling to use nitric acid and chlorine, which not only helped to remove the natural wax coating on the leaf but also rendered it resistant to fungal and insect attacks. Once applied, the colours too become water resistant and their purity is retained. He taught this technique to the Japanese students who evinced interest in learning new things.

As lotus leaves are widely used in the rituals in the Japanese Buddhist temples, painting on them caught their fancy and the students got involved in learning the technique. Dhinakara found that the natural colours made in Japan were rich and when applied on the green surface of the lotus leaf, they created a unique glowing effect.

The Nippon Christian Academy, Kyoto, where Dhinakara stayed after the first two months in Tokyo, also sponsored an exhibition of his creations in September 2001. His second show was held at the Kyoto City International Foundation. What he considers the best thing to have happened for him in Japan, besides learning new techniques, is the opportunity to have met and interacted with the pre-eminent American artist Frank Stella, who held a solo show there. An artist, who is equally adept at painting, printmaking and sculpture, treated a much junior artist like Dhinakara as his equal, which has left a lasting impression on the youngster.

Dhinakara has brought enough materials to continue wood block printing in Chennai at least for a year, and he wishes to teach the technique to others. Simultaneously, he is also trying to identify the proper type of wood and paper locally. Dhinakara Sundar's paintings and prints made in Japan are being exhibited at the DBS Galleria, 31A, Cathedral Garden Road, from September 6 to 8. The show is sponsored by India-Japan Diplomatic Relationship, ABK-AOTS Dosokai, Tamil Nadu Centre.

LAKSHMI VENKATRAMAN

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