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Tanjore touch

Master-painter C. Natarajan's collection of 40 Tanjore paintings are on display at Jidoka


BURNISHED GOLD, creamy yellow, shades of blue, a couple of greens, deep maroon and a few more tones — not too many colours, but they come together beautifully in Tanjore paintings to create a rich world where plump Krishnas eat butter from jewelled cauldrons and ornamented Yashodas rock incredibly chubby baby Krishnas to sleep. Traditional Tanjore painting uses very few colours, but involves lots of layering, stonework and embellishment, explains C. Natarajan, whose Tanjore paintings are on display today and tomorrow.

"Tanjore painting has become very commercialised. There are many artists who use short cuts so that they can churn out large numbers and sell more," he says. So Natarajan sticks to completely traditional methods and is even trying to resurrect the original Tanjore style of using gold foil directly, instead of the gold leaf paper that is used at present. Natarajan visits temples and studies the figures painted on to the walls and ceilings. He then makes sketches of them in the Tanjore style and turns them into glittering masterpieces. "I don't have enough time to travel and sketch as much as I would like to," says this master-painter, who has been working with gold leaf and fine-tipped brushes for the past 15 years.

The 40 paintings at his exhibition are dazzling creations of burnished gold — richly adorned figures in opulent surroundings and generously studded with semi-precious stones. The faces are precisely proportioned and tinted to perfection, the eyes, striking. The mandapams in the background are elaborately carved with yalis, angels and parrots replacing the usual flower-and-leaf motifs in the top corners. While the well known Butter Krishnas and Radha-Krishnas are present in full glory, he's added a few more subjects such as Guru Nanak and Jesus and Mary, also in the Tanjore style. There are unusual works too such as a richly embossed elephant and a cow that share a head. "There are many figures such as these on temple ceilings, down South," he says, going on to describe one painting he found on a temple ceiling where eight completely different bodies share one head. "I'd like to paint them in the Tanjore style."

The paintings are on display on April 6 and 7, 11.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. at The Slate Room, Jidoka, (next to Apex Plaza), Nungambakkam High Road.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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