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Mesmerising canvases


FOR SEVEN-and-a-half long years, Francis Antony Kondankandath studied Carnatic and Hindustani vocal with the express purpose to paint music. The end result: he still cannot sing as well as he can reduce Raag Bilaval into colour and line. In another large canvas, the seven musical notes, sa-re-ga-ma-pa-da-ni-sa, are represented by the seven colours of the rainbow. He traverses the sounds of music, recreating them as ripples and waves so that the canvas undulates in crescendo and fall; he plays with colour tones, achieving an intensity and dullness to portray the swell and drop respectively. This acrylic on canvas was selected by Reader's Digest for its back cover in July 2001.

Kodankandath's works are interesting because, just as he tries to produce sound on canvas, he also essays to infiltrate the latter with a light of its own. This is best displayed in a few works that have their genesis in stained glass paintings of old time churches. The artist grew up in a Christian neighbourhood where he would casually watch the play of light and colour in his courtyard as the sun's rays filtered through the stained glass windows of the chapel. The effect was mesmerizing. Over a period of twenty years, without any formal training in art, he tried to infuse his works with an artificial light, struggling between the translucent medium of glass and the opaqueness of canvas.

In The First Supper, ("if there was a last supper there must have been a first and second one too") a light emanates from behind Christ's head, upholds him in a prominent hierarchy and casts its shadow in the foreground, in front of the large table. The other apostles are in relative darkness with only stray, reflected beams coming their way; and through the chaos of colour and pattern, our eyes rest on the central character. The palette is kept simple, with the artist vacillating between greens and browns. This picture which won the Kerala Lalitkala Akademi award in 1993 is followed by the Second Supper where the busy and elaborate surface gets some respite; the figures are not lost under the weight of design and outline and the heavy jigsaw puzzle effect from the table cover is replaced with simple strokes.

Excavated Mind of an Automobile (oil on canvas) is a man's tribute to his grandfather where the old man's antique Austin becomes a metaphor by which he is remembered and portrayed. The monotony of design that was visible in the stained glass series is abandoned. Here, both the car and the grand old man triumph as they dwell in a similar monumentality, against a complex background, broken into squares, they are made to adjust to each other.

SUNANDA KHANNA

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