A `not bad' scene for art
The art exhibited at Kochi''s galleries are clear indicators of the State's immense talent and creativity. Roving around the city galleries, talking to the artists and assessing the works, SUNANDA KHANNA says that Kochi offers quality art at very sensible prices.
A YEAR and a bit ago, a relatively unknown Kottayam-based artist sent a copy of his 2ft x 1.5ft work in oil to Pope John Paul II for his perusal. The painting, a portrait of Jesus Christ at a surprisingly undocumented period of his life, his adolescent years, shows the youthful Jesus in singular, compassionate beauty with a translucent skin and traces of a developing moustache. Ever since the Pope's congratulatory reply, others from Kofi Annan and a host of dignitaries have followed.
Back home, 28-year-old Gijo Philip is all smiles.. It was also the year when Vasthu Vidya Gurukulam, a State run autonomous institute for the promotion of mural paintings at Aranmula, prepared a unique piece of mural art on the Last Supper for the Vatican Museum.
International accolades notwithstanding, no, it hasn't been only in the makings of religious art that the State's abilities were showcased. That Kerala sprouts talent and creativity is evident in the growing number of younger artists displaying their works in city galleries. By and large their canvases are packed with new ideas and drawing skills.
Located in the central business area, Chitram Art Gallery has had a relatively good year. Says proprietor Ramachandran Nair, "Even though sales are down due to recession, we have had a good response from foreigners and North Indians."
For Dorrie and Anoop, the husband-wife team who own Kashi Art Café, the year has "definitely been a busy and an excellent one." Their fifth year into existence and they are starting to get the positive feedback from art that they have been nurturing over the years. "The seed has been sown," says Dorrie with an enviable sense of triumph and adds with conviction: "At the end of the next five years we're going to be rolling." The duo has reason to be excited. They have created an artistic ambience, where a browsing and/or buying community congregates and discusses art and more over cups of tea.
Dorrie is in the midst of updating the gallery's website and making it more professional "so that people can follow the art scene here and appreciate our work." They have painstakingly built up a clientele; showcased South Indian art to foreigners and locals; identified serious artists and hosted a number of exhibitions. Their commitment is clear even in the manner that they frame the pictures, very meticulously, and to an interested audience they can also be relied upon for ready information about the displaying artist.
However, not all share their enthusiasm. Most agree that the year hasn't been too promising for art. Says C.N. Karunakaran, celebrated artist, "The galleries are facing a tough time. The response to art is poor in Kochi and it makes better sense to go and exhibit in Chennai or Bangalore."
At a time when the economy is down and people are spending conservatively, it is no surprise that art sales are plummeting. But the reality is something else. Those in the know conclude that art is not a priority with the city folk; there's a palpable disinterest to invest in art even amongst those who have the means to do so. "Part of the problem lies in lack of education in art. Part of it can be attributed to careless interior decorators who misguide their clients into buying prints instead of the real stuff," says artist C.S. Jayaram. Moreover, bona fide art dealers who can assess prices are few and far between, if at all. For his properties that are spread out over the State, well known hotelier Najeeb Zackeria prefers to commission paintings rather that buying them off the walls of a gallery. Zackeria has a penchant for seascapes and backwaters done in watercolours that mirror the natural beauty of the State. The group has plans to promote up and coming artists. "We will give them exposure during our food festivals."
Meanwhile for the Aswanis, it made business sense to open a gallery and cafeteria in their Raymond's showroom so that women and children could browse around and not feel bored, while the men were doing their purchases. In the course of time there were many an impulsive buys and "now of course there are people who come only to look at the paintings."
In spite of the fact that there isn't a vibrant market here, the number of artists continues to rise, as do the galleries. All said and done, it's a city that offers quality art at by and large sensible prices.
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