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A pot pourri of paintings

SUNANDA KHANNA reviews the ongoing painting exhibition at the Chitram Art Gallery.

TEN YEARS ago the city's art scene received a much-needed boost when Ramachandran Nair, at the behest of noted personality M.V. Devan, started the Chitram Art Gallery. Even as it occupied a small area of 1,000 sq feet in downtown Ravipuram, it provided a platform for the young and older artists to express themselves and display their works. While it did this, it also went ahead to hold an annual exhibition, introducing new painters to the city. With effortless camaraderie, their works rubbed shoulders with those of established and reputed artists. This year too, it opened its doors on October 20th to present the works of over 50 artists, not all who belong to Kerala. Says Nair, "Due to the recession there aren't too many new faces to be seen. Therefore, most of the painters featured at this year's exhibition are known, senior artists".

The hall is chock-a-block. Frames, large and small, fill the gallery to capacity. There's not an inch of surplus space as pictures jostle with one another. Even as the gallery undertook to curate this vast exhibition, the underlying notion has been to bring together the works of artists from all over the country. So while Kerala is well represented by Karunakaran C.N., Pratheesh Odakkali, Nandan P.V, Karunakaran P.S., John V.J., Francis Kondankandath amongst the many others, there is Ramachandran K.N from Tamil Nadu, now based in Bangalore, Ananthaiah D from Andhra Pradesh, Bidula Basu from Bengal and Arati Sen Roy from Varanasi. Again, there are many more in the latter list.

There is not one broad categorization to which these works belong. While Karunakaran C.N. gets closer to his ideal of abstraction in Relax with Dreams, in Kaali and Darikan Sekar Ayyanthole plays around with his mythological creatures, harnessing the vainglorious beast with his firm brush work and his idiosyncratic application of colour. Karunakaran breaks up his composition into geometric signs, filling it with decorative and lyrical figures so that familiar faces emerge from a seemingly distant past.

Jayaram C.S. makes a spontaneous and energetic response to the travails of train travelers in Subha Yatra. Broad, thick strokes applied with a palette knife heighten the insecurities of two young women as they seek support of an overhead bar. Jayaram's choice of colours underscores the pathos of the situation as the women become the cynosure of all eyes. The plight of women is a topic also close to Deepthi. P. Vasu's heart. In a watercolour, her women find themselves hopelessly trapped in a familial urn. Whichever way they look, myriad roads surround them. For a brief moment they are buoyant with hope at the sight of a path, only to be dashed by their maze-like confusion.

Joju Joseph explores and manipulates the cyclic nature of life and death in his untitled oil painting. To represent them he divides his canvas with two complimentary colours of blue and violet symbolizing the river of death, where fantastic creatures lurk from the shadows. And then there's the fertile green that presents the rebirth of hope. Bidula Basu's Dance is charged with movement, as the two young figures are lost in their invocation to the Gods. The sketches, colours and facial features are typically Bengali and reminiscent of the local style. An artist who blends his native Kerala style with the years spent well at Santiniketan is Saju Mannathur. Saju is totally initiated into the Santhal painting style, which he further develops into his own idiom.

Manoj Vyloor's works evoke a surreal quality. His two pictures on display are of the time when he undertook a trip to the tropical forests of north Kerala. Whether at night or day, the forest looked dark under the canopy of tall, thick trees. The image stayed, to be later restored on canvas. Vyloor's colours are translucent, which he achieves with the clever use of acrylics. Nandan P.V is able to metaphorically translate the many moods of nature. His untitled canvas on show is a large painting depicting the loneliness of a little child. Nature's bounteous beauty cannot relieve her sense of alienation. In our unbalanced lives, scenic locales can sometimes intensify our fears instead of mitigating them, he says

Venu V.B.'s picture is a testimony of our changing times. While the teachings of Buddha and Gandhi have been relegated to the past, it is the spectre of terrorism that unites. The terrorist's eye dominates the present; the artist reinforces this dominance by providing it with colour whereas the champions of peace are painted in black and white.

That the typical village scene has not lost its relevance is evident in senior artist Ramachandran K.N's work. This scene has long been a source of inspiration to painters, where they could experiment with bright, resplendent colours, filling their composition with a variety of figures and objects. Ramachandran paints with care, creating a private moment between the protagonists, gently urging the other characters to join in.

In spite of the constraints of space that can disturb a keen viewer's deliberation, a well documented exhibition that is bound to encourage the art scene in Kochi.

The exhibition closes on November 2.

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