Lord Shiva doing the thaandavam, replicas of great masters' works, Tanjore paintings and more… — the walls in E.R. Lakshmanan's house are taken over by his artworks

Sixty-five-year-old E.R. Lakshmanan's home is a personal art gallery and a life-size canvas rolled into one. The retired additional commissioner has nearly 50 artworks — painted over the last four decades — hanging on every inch of available wall space in his home. And in the five years since his retirement, Lakshmanan's taken to filling any remaining spaces (doorways, alcoves and stairwells) with sprawling murals on various subjects.

Walk into his living room, for instance, and you find yourself flanked by a ceiling-to-floor image of Lord Shiva dancing the thaandavam (painted to create a stained-glass effect) on one side, and a tall, textured painting of the Temple Tree on the other, its branches framing the front door lovingly.

“My wife calls me palli (lizard) because she says I spend all my time stuck to the wall, painting,” laughs Lakshmanan.

The artworks reflect Lakshmanan's journey as a self-taught artist, and include early oil replicas of the works of great masters such as Van Gogh, Degas and Vermeer, and later works inspired by places he was posted in, including France and Sri Lanka.

“The Degas is my oldest remaining painting, almost 35 years old,” he says. “These masters were my teachers; I painted their works and learnt their style.” He adds, his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, “When I was in Europe, I made it a point to visit the museums to see the originals. They were exactly the same — I was so happy!”

But the most striking artworks in the Lakshmanan home would have to be the recent murals, each of which took him a month to create. An entire alcove is painted to create a temple effect, with images of deities made to look like stone engravings (fittingly, the alcove houses his Tanjore paintings — yes, he does those too!). Across the passage, David fights Goliath in the stairwell (“I created this as a tribute to my sister-in-law, as she battled cancer — her Goliath — for several years,” he says). From one corner of the dining area, a fierce Harpy Eagle stares down at you, and from the adjacent wall, an elephant stares majestically ahead.

Not surprisingly, this explosion of artwork can take visitors by surprise. “I see the paintings every day, so I don't notice them anymore,” says his wife. “But when people visit for the first time, they're stunned. They feel like they've come to a museum or an art gallery!”

Original techniques

For one regular group of visitors, though, the artwork creates the perfect ambience — Lakshmanan's art students, ranging in age from eight to 60 years. “Since I've never been formally trained myself, my teaching techniques are original — I just let their talent flow,” he says.

In fact, teaching has taken priority over painting these days. Especially since he doesn't have any more room to display new paintings. But, he's very clear that selling the works is not an option. “Many of my early works were just given away or sold for Rs. 10 when I was posted abroad,” he recalls regretfully. “I don't want to lose anymore.” And, he says, carrying them to another space and exhibiting just seems like too much of an effort.

Well, why should he? He's created the perfect exhibition hall right in his home, and it's open 365 days a year!