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Faithful to the creative urge

Upendranath T. R. has evolved a style his very own. But he has exhibited rarely and finds joy in creating what his mind and very being dictate, he tells SUNANDA KHANNA.


HE CALLS it a living room installation. This minuscule space can accommodate anything under the sun and at the blink of an eyelid can morph into a busy carpenter's workshop, a scientist's laboratory, a bibliophile's delight or even a ladies dressing room. Above all however it is artist Upendranath T.R's atelier, a euphemism for his personal space; here he churns out a prolific oeuvre. His collection is largely for his own personal viewing; once in a while he invites an art aficionado to take a peek at his works and thereby into his life experiences.

Self taught and without any academic trappings until now, Upendranath has been selected for the year-long Master of Fine Arts course by the University of Dundee in Scotland. " I got the admission last year, after I sent them slides and all the formalities were completed. They also took a look at my works on the net, on the `Gallery Bombay' site. I could not go then. This year, they have offered me an admission again. I do not know whether I will be able to go," he says, smiling.


Upendra's works have often been used By Reader's Digest as illustrations to accompanying text. He has also been featured on the back cover. Says Mohan Sivanand, the Deputy Editor and an artist himself, "Upendra has a distinctive style of his own".

The magazine, Span has also used many of his works. Upendra's themes are grim. He recalls growing up near a cemetery where the only sights he ever saw were of corpses being carried by pall bearers, and of burning bodies. He does not think they had a negative influence on him, but unsurprisingly, the thoughts he grew up with were of emptiness, helplessness and trivialities that we weave into our lives. Now, through the medium of art he searches for the meaning of life.


His experiments find expression in a range of works; some oils and watercolours but largely paper collages. Collage is his preferred medium partly because Upendra feels there is a sculptor in him and this method gives a faint appearance of relief sculpture. The artist is a meticulous worker; applying adhesives carefully so that the fragmented pictorial pieces don't wrinkle. In fact so skilful is he that it takes a discerning eye not to mistake them for oils.

Upendra avoids being influenced by other artists, movements or even commercial advances in the form of art products.


A short tête-à-tête and you know he won't let anything shackle his creativity and his own moorings. The surface of his works is mostly black (to break away from the predictable white) on which he places his figures. Interestingly, these figures, mostly in profile are not inhabitants of a particular place; they're marked by universality so that anyone anywhere can relate to them. When Arturo Solari, a Mexican artist in Spain saw them mounted at Kashi Art Café, he was so moved that he took a bunch back home to Spain and exhibited them there.


Even as the compositions look minimal the process is an intellectual activity for the artist who says "I keep working till my mind tells me to stop". There is no spontaneous mingling of forms; they float against geometric shapes that lend different textures to the canvas. There's a graceful, quiet poetry about the human and animal forms, sometimes surreal in their manifestation (a meandering line gives a hen's body to a human head!). Upendra is an inspired colourist. Flaming colours against dark backgrounds are placed artistically to save his canvases from looking decorative. Instead the colours become an element of immediate personal expression. He has experimented with food colours that impart a transparency to his pictures.


Deeply influenced by the Zen way of thinking, he has started doing sketches along with short accompanying Malayalam texts, which could be compiled into a book. He feels that if children are exposed to the Zen mode of thinking, a happier world will emerge. He has not approached anybody to publish it as only a portion of the project is finished. These sketches, again, are very different from the style of his collages.


Upendranath, 34, refuses to fall into the material-man mould, sticks to principles held sacred by him, and believes his art will talk for him.

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