Art News & Views

...Colour guides in its own direction...

Achuthan Kudallur (AK) in conversation with Vaishnavi Ramanathan (VR)

Chennai - based artist Achuthan Kudallur is known for his brilliantly coloured, pulsating canvases that in their abstract structure create a microcosm of their own. Here he talks to Vaishnavi Ramanathan  about his work.

VR- You are known for the rich colour symphonies that you create in a canvas. How do you actually choose the colours for a canvas?

AK- It is never planned. When I have a particular colour in mind for a painting, it invites its own friendly colours a group of colours that go with it. Suppose I am using green or blue, I will go for colours connected to that spectrum and not brown or black. That is where the energy is dissipated. Physically it is not a tiring process, but then coming from one colour to another there is a draining out of mental energy. It is not easy to start. You hesitate and become apprehensive when you are suddenly going into a new colour. That shows, behind painting there is a lot of energy. It is a positive sign, not a mechanical process.

VR- Apprehensive as to how it will come..?

AK- Yes. Because I don't plan. Colour guides in its own direction. You have to just help the whole thing develop. Because of continuous painting, I have developed a certain sense of order which is not very symmetrical. And I try to bring that order in the canvas.

VR- Klee once said that he needn't go in pursuit of colour anymore since colour possesses him …

AK- Yes. Klee was a great thinker. Every painter will feel the same if their approach is sincere. Most painters have written few words but they convey a lot. Even K. C. S. Paniker has written about his work and how he went into the 'Words and Symbols' series. It may be few words but it conveys a lot. You can't go on changing. If you have integrity you will strike one chord and then continue with it. Even the most versatile Picasso himself, if you analyse, handled very few elements. He handled it again and again, but still you find in it so much of variety. He said if you use three or four colours and if everything is in place, you will feel you have used a lot of colours.

VR- Do you believe in a symbolic association of colour?

AK- No. I don't believe in it. Earlier, in India we used to have the Raga Mala series where there would be one painting for one Raga. That is one person's interpretation but that is all limiting. Painting has its own power. By virtue of its simplicity it becomes more powerful. Our Indian mind likes to find one thing and then hold on to it with a superstition. That is why our traditional arts had suffered.

VR- You had said some time back that once an artist finds something worthy in their painting s/he would like to hold on to it…

AK- Yes. But folk arts and arts like Kathakali will continue to use the same costume and musical instruments and will never try to experiment. However Vallathol Kalamadalam did many experiments and now it is presentable. You don't have to go for glittering things but you can always improve. I'm talking about performing arts, but in painting you can't find a truth every day. From the visual experience of your whole lifetime you discover something… lot of people will ask why abstract art is saying the same thing all over again. But once you move away from that your whole concept is lost. Now you take any abstract painter, you will think it is repetitive but they are not tired of it.

VR- You think this is true only for abstract art?

AK- No. But in figurative the repetition will be very stark. Suppose you paint the same face again and again, you will be bored. But in abstraction there is always some improvisation. It will not be so rigid. There is no geometry. I am not fond of geometry in art. Tantric art used to have that. That is why it didn't spread. They were caught in the theory.

VR- But people generally refer to you as an 'intellectual painter'. On the other hand you emphasise the importance of spontaneity in your work. So how do you reconcile these two things?

AK- I don't know that. The thing is I am not bowled over by painting. I always feel this medium has its own limitations. Literature, the way it spreads, is more subversive. There is a cerebral element in that. Painting connects well with music. It works more like metaphors. Literature has the power to convert people. It has its strengths and weaknesses. It reaches each individual. Here in painting if the original work is removed from you it is very difficult, because what is written about it will not convey anything. I always feel if I were a writer or a film maker, things would have been very different. So I always feel humble, this medium has a very small reach. In your whole life time you cannot see all your work together. No other medium suffers like that. If you are very famous sometime people will proudly say I have 'so and so' and bring them all out together. But even then they won't give it for an exhibition. So I am not very happy about what I do but I cannot reverse the direction now.

VR- You started out as a writer…

AK- I have published some short stories and poems. But now I don't even talk about it.

VR- If we look at Chennai artists like K. C. S. Paniker they have used script as an element in their work. Being a part of Chennai's art scenario were you never tempted to do the same?

AK- Even he used it as a visual element. He used it for shapes only. He was not a Tantric either, though people loosely call it a 'Tantric movement'. He never claimed to be a Tantric. What Tantric symbols he used, he used, once again, only as visuals. And I always feel painting should be totally visual. Any idea conveyed through painting will not stay, because subversion is not its purpose. Art has to radiate from a simple neutral level. Only then it becomes powerful. It doesn't make direct comments but it brightens up an area that you wouldn't otherwise notice. That innocence is important. That way abstract art doesn't rob you. If I put a human head in the painting, then the whole painting will shrink to that. My idea is not to bring down the colour values to that level.

VR- You have said elsewhere that 'If I can explain everything what is there for me to paint' referring to the inability of words to convey everything …

AK- That is what I said earlier.. literature is strong and at the same time weak because it puts everything in concrete shape. Whereas painting or music has this association.. it hints at something. Then it works wonders at your subconscious level...

VR- Is this what made you change from writing to painting?

AK- No. That was purely accidental. Only when I entered painting I found its possibilities. Earlier when I started painting I never knew the power of painting. I just went to it as though some destiny was waiting for me. I was not prolific in writing. Whatever I wrote, I used to illustrate in the margin. Then some people started saying that I could take it seriously. At that time I never thought I would get into abstraction. I was totally against it. Then eventually that became my world…
But I used to think that even if abstract art had not come from Germany.. even if Klee and Kandinsky had not done it, some Indian would have gone into it because our mind is so abstract. We have a great musical tradition. Somebody would have gone into it. Even they (western artists) were borrowing from our oriental thoughts and philosophy.

VR- You have said that knowing where to stop a painting is difficult..

AK-That is the challenging thing. Starting a painting is easy but where to stop… there are many places where one can stop a painting, so you have to decide. That way you will paint only one picture. One touch more can change the whole thing. Its articulation will be very different. In abstraction you have to be very careful not to overwork. Even touching up a painting can create a lot of problems. The tonality will be different from early colour. It brings in lot of unwanted shapes. You will lose control over it.
Even if I want to repeat my paintings I can't. In a figurative work at least the main figure will stand. Nothing can be repeated, but at least the impact can be created.

VR- In a certain sense, any abstract work irrespective of the medium is like a watercolour work where you have only one chance.

AK- Yes.

VR- Have you ever felt like working with other mediums like watercolour, video art etc.

AK- I do watercolours. Earlier I used to think I will do video art, but now I fear going into it because you will be dependent on another person for the editing. It is very interesting. But now I think painting will hold me till I die.



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