Musings from Chennai
by Vaishnavi Ramanathan
This month Chennai played host to solo shows by two senior artists. While one was a retrospective of artist-teacher P. Perumal's works, the other was an exhibition of abstracts by Achuthan Kudallur.
P. Perumal's show was the first in a series of retrospectives that Dakshina Chitra is planning to curate on important South Indian artists. Perumal, who was also part of the Madras Art Movement in the 1950's, is known for his prints and paintings that largely delve into rural themes. What was interesting in this retrospective show was the way art mediated between the artist's longing for his rural home and the immediate reality of having to live in the city. Furthermore, it brought out the artist's bond with the people in his village; in the way he constantly revisited rural life and its inhabitants through his paintings and in his instinctive modelling of each lean and tall figure in the paintings in his own image. Along with the exhibition, Perumal's People a film by Gita was also released.
After a gap of ten years Vinnyasa Premier Galery presented a solo exhibition of Achuthan Kudallur in Chennai. While his abstracts have always been known for the energy created through the use of form and colour, his recent works are marked by the use of startling colour combinations and spatial arrangements that invest the canvas with a more restless energy. However it was in the layered and textured application of the colours that the artist's evolution in the last few years was most evident. The intensity of colours such as red, black, yellow and green and their earthy, textured contact with the canvas surface was reminiscent of ritual drawings of Kerala and the luminosity of the powder pigments used in them. As an artist whose ambition was to become a writer, these paintings where the abstract narratives match the literary intensity of his tales of Kerala, mark a stage where two different aspects of the artist's personality have organically met.
Another solo show that was held in the city was Hyderabad artist Masuram Ravikanth's painting exhibition at Apparao Galleries. The paintings were a witty commentary on contemporary life tinged with an element of nostalgia as they drew from the colour range, awkward posturing and fantastic settings of the studio photography tradition.
Gallery Sri Parvati presented an exhibition of works by Bangalore based father-son duo, J.M.S. Mani and S. Rajesh. Another artist-teacher, J.M.S. Mani's paintings were dominated by figures already familiar to his audience through his Badami series. The artist's versatility and feel for a variety of mediums was evident in the composition of the paintings and the way the works related to each other. With one painting appearing like a close-up of an area in another and the entire body of works appearing like a collection of painted stills of the same figures going through a set of actions, these works 'anticipate' framing techniques of photography and animation; mediums which the artist is yet to work with. In contrast to J.M.S Mani's figurative works were S. Rajesh's textured abstracts in earthy and olive shades. Apart from this, Lalit Kala Akademi hosted an exhibition of works by its research grant awardees. The exhibition was a mixed bag as it was a combination of mature vocabularies and experimental forays which were successful in varying degrees.