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Refined, divergent canvases


AT A time when most galleries in town seem to have taken a summer break and downed their shutters, the two-day exhibition at Durbar Hall comes as a welcome; more so because of the divergent styles exploited by the two young artists, Raju and Seemon.

The larger of the oeuvres belongs to Raju, an engineer who realised that his passion for art could no longer be restricted to a hobby. He enrolled into the Indian School of Arts, Ravipuram, and now juggles between the traditional mural style of painting and the more contemporary digital art. Both techniques are on display and it goes to his credit that there is no attempt to fuse the two; the solemnity of the mural is preserved as is the versatility of the electronic art. While murals originally adorned the walls of temples and palaces, there has been an attempt to revive them, give an aesthetic continuum so that the uniqueness of this ancient tradition doesn't die out.

Even though they are referred to as murals these are now made on regular canvas, though one of Raju's works is on asbestos where he has given the surface several coatings of a paste derived from lime and coconut water, a bid to get as close to the original as possible.

Planning and painting murals is a laborious and painstaking task, he tells you. The razor-sharp engineer's mind gets to work at the word go; puranas and scriptures are pored over, nay studied lest the divine iconography is marred. The myriad motifs and figures, each has a defined space and purpose; it would be sacrilege to defy or be ignorant of the norms.

To an untrained eye a picture such as Rukmini Swayamvara could look crowded; the composition crammed full.

But the original mural artist, commissioned to paint over unrelenting jambs and pillars has learnt to manage these areas. A picture could contain several scenes, each demarcated by a `manimala,' a curvilinear border. In fact, borders are a copious element in this style; the floral pattern that frames Saraswati is decorative and enhances the overall effect. The artist meanwhile works with a finite colour range, consisting of only five hues.

Moreover, each is crouched in an unswerving convention so that Shiva is always painted white; Ram and Krishna in blue; Durga in green. Similarly there are three types of eyes, with fish eyes being assigned to the gods. All objects, even the human figures are stylised, lending a vigorous charm to this ancient style.


Seemon is also a mural painter and has teamed up with Raju in the past to make several paintings, such as the marriage of Shiva and Parvati at the T.D.M. Hall.

But he showcases a wholly different genre at this exhibition. Sketches in ink pen of a beach at Fort Kochi accompanied by the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets; a synagogue in Mattancherry.

His watercolours include identifiable features from the city's landscape.

Buildings are defined by broad applications of pastel colours as the artist essays to capture the play of light and shade.

The canvasses are marked by a minimalism; it's a clean break from the ornamental and patterned mural.

SUNANDA KHANNA

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