Colour is the protagonist in Achuthan Kudallur's ongoing solo show at the Durbar Hall Art Centre, Kochi.

“Starting a painting is easy, but you should know when to stop.” This is Achuthan Kudallur – one of India's foremost abstract artists – speaking. Though more than 40 years into the world of art, with several national recognitions to his name, Achuthan Kudallur's solo show is in Kerala for the first time ever.

At Durbar Hall Art Centre, Kochi, 40 of his works hang on the wall in the spacious Gallery C, upstairs. Shrishti Art Gallery of Hyderabad has brought his show here.

Long-standing wish

“It was my ardent wish to have a show here, in Kerala, and I took great pains to have a proper catalogue made. I had not done this for a long time, but I wanted to do it for this one,” says Kudallur, who adds that he is pained that Kerala Lalitakala Akademi has not invited him for a single show, despite doing so much in the field for so many years.

Kudallur has won the National Akademi award and the Tamil Nadu Lalitakala Akademi award, apart from being the Commissioner for the 10th Indian International Triennale in 2001. The Nobelsage Gallery exhibited his works in 2009 while he made his presence felt in Sotheby's in 2007. That he lives in Chennai cannot be the reason, for the contributions of artists who live outside the State have often been recognised.

The theme and subject of a work is debatable, but the feeling it conveys counts. It is ‘madness,' feel some, but look closely and if you feel there's a method in the madness, then it turns into art. Otherwise, it is just an attempt at abstract. The method in Kudallur's art is an intensity that springs from the way colour is wedded to form.

Colour is definitely the protagonist in each work. The angular forms are neither animate nor inanimate, just forms: Sometimes lines, sometimes a body of colour and dots that stand in a queue. The geometric nature of these forms and half forms is the common factor that binds his body of work into one style.

Focus

The focus of each work is clear, like a dark open window space or a rough square around which the entire work revolves. A few bright white lines, blotched or otherwise, create another focal point. The colour red screams from the walls. “Yes, red is a favourite colour,” agrees Kudallur, who loves earthy colours. Rust is another recurring hue among the other browns. While red and its cousins like maroon, and all shades of the colour, including blood red dominate, there's a cool green one, two turquoise blues and a few earthy browns, in different sizes. “I prefer large canvases as it's more comfortable working on them,” Kudallur says.

No fancy shapes for him, for all the canvases, big or small, are mostly squares and a few not very pronounced rectangles. Titles don't seem to matter for all the works are untitled. “If I title them, then people will try to look for some images and will not enjoy the work,” he says.

The figurative style in his early years evolved as abstracts down the years. “Colour spreads by its own logic and a new pictorial space emerges. You know when to stop when peace arrives, it's like the syntax of a well crafted sentence,” explains Kudallur on how he manages the creativity urge.

Kudallur was a writer before he turned painter. He wrote short stories and articles for a few papers. Though he paints a lot in acrylic and water colours, oil is a favourite still. Some colours happen only in oil, he feels, like the shade of blue that he fancies. “Also, when you have to paint a dot, acrylic does not behave as well as oil,” he discloses.

Public interest in abstracts has certainly increased. From sheer apathy, it has graduated to the curiosity level, he says. The unrealistic prices commanded by art some time ago harmed the art scene in the country but now it is correcting, he feels. Many artists were hurt by this euphoria in the art world then, when the philosophy of ‘art as an investment' was taken too seriously by people and collectors. Kudallur never succumbed to this temptation.

He refused to price his works unrealistically high. That the signature of an established artist matters more than what is in the frame is a sad reality, Kudallur remarks.

Without pretensions, or the trappings of a successful artist, he calls a spade a spade: the same qualities that are seen in his art. The exhibition is on till March 15.