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A pioneer of public arts

Jayapala Panikkar's style was rooted in his environment. He was attracted to the Tantric too. His works can best be described as semi-abstracts as he amalgamated both folk and the west's abstract styles to start a new investigation in visual arts.


LIKE A sentinel he stood outside the makeshift exhibition hall guarding the art works with his life. The occasion was the 50th birth anniversary of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, revered all over the world as the Divine Mother and the venue was International Stadium, Kaloor. Jayapala Panikkar, who recently passed away in Thiruvanthapuram, was one of the many artists animated by the Mata's love, who had essayed to embody her spirit in a portrait of her.

Panikkar was attracted to the Tantric style of painting and freely borrowed from its huge repertoire of symbolic diagrams and geometric signs. His picture of the Mata too, is replete with that. "The seed of Brahma, which is suspended above her head epitomises her close links with the Gods. In her meditation she embodies the highest stage of the laws of prakrati, going beyond desire, work and knowledge," he had said. Instantaneously, the painting morphed into a sacred object endowed with a religio-magical power. Besides his ability to synchronise the composition, but never letting it slip to too much symmetry what is striking is his immaculate craftsmanship. There is an innate beauty of line and colour that is both delicate and expressive. Says artist T. Kaladharan, "what impressed me was the keen tonality and perfect brushwork that he was able to achieve."

Last year he was awarded a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 by the State's Lalit Kala Akademi. Colleagues will aver that he was a true appreciator of art. When Kanayi Kunhiraman, now the chairman of State's Akademi created a new medium of sheet metal sculpture in 1961, Panikkar didn't hesitate to buy it and later exhibit it at the Cholamandalam Kalakara Gramam, of which he was one of the founders. Noted artist M.V.Devan and Panikkar shared a close bonhomie and the latter was at the forefront to lend him a helping hand in many of his projects. When Devan was actively involved in the interior decoration of Hotel Karthika at Quilon, his friend shared the burden.

Arguably, Panikkar's best contribution to art was his ability to create a style that was rooted in his environment. His works can best be described as semi-abstracts as he amalgamated both folk and the west's abstract styles to start a new investigation in visual arts. Aware that his art works would not buy him his daily bread he went on to learn batik painting and later taught it to youngsters. He believed in community living and workshops. Art should be brought out of the halls and made available for everyone to see and judge. In essence he was a pioneer of public arts.

SUNANDA KHANNA

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