Mural artist Saju Thuruthil's works, rich in colour, texture and design, now find themselves on Kerala saris
“There are murals and murals.” The pause in Saju Thuruthil's comment is akin to the ‘no comment' that politicians often resort to when asked pointed questions. The temple arts like Krishnanattam and chakiarkoothu broke free from the temple precincts and reached out to the masses, in the last century. Likewise, murals, which adorned the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of temples have come out to adorn homes, as interior decoration, art pieces on paper, canvas and cloth. The subject matter is not limited to the puranas anymore and the paint, from natural, has also moved on to what is available in the market, like acrylic or fabric paint.
Saju Thuruthil, who belongs to the first batch of mural art students that Mammiyoor Krishnan Kutty Nair trained at Guruvayoor Devaswom Mural Painting Institute, now trains his eyes from walls to saris. Saju, who is teaching mural art in Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kalady, put his State Award winning painting, ‘Chayamukhi' (2006) to further use. He did a series of paintings under this title for a textile showroom in Kochi, which used it as prints in one of its silk sari series. Now, Saju is doing it as a work of art on the Kerala saris, for a firm which intends to export it.
There are many people doing it already, on shirts, saris and kurtas, you wonder, so what's new? He opens out a sari, with rich gold borders and the pallu filled with a beautiful girl, painted in mural style, in rich colours, with birds, patterned background et al. Touch it and it looks like print. The designs are also painted in the areas where the pleats of the sari fall, and they fall properly. The paint does not stick out on the surface of the cloth. How? “It's a mixture of fabric paint and acrylic, and it is liquidised, so that nothing happens even when you wash or iron the sari,” Saju discloses. He perfected the art through a trial-and-error method. Not all types of fabric can be used for this. Cotton is okay and so is silk, he has found out. The paint spreads on some fabrics.
Each of the six done recently has the mural style, but not the intricate work, or the traditional figures.
Unlike art graduates of other branches of art, the mural art students have stuck to this art form, Saju feels. “It isn't something that an untutored artist can do, for there are rules, regarding the face, body etc of the figures which are usually puranic in character. Restoration work is an area where they find work,” he says, adding that he has done restoration of murals in 14 temples, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This native of Moothakunnam who lives in Kalady (his house doubles up as a gallery, too), says his students help him in this venture and the idea is to give employment to them.
Many of the students who have studied mural art will get employment in this area. Arun Gopal and Kalesh, Akhil, Nikhil and Arun worked with him on these saris. “They are spread out and worked on, like a canvas. It is difficult work, for the artist must see that not even a drop of paint falls on the off white sari,” says Saju. Eighteen years ago, he had painted murals on jute shirts with coconut shell buttons which were exported to Male, he remembers. Saju feels this area has been largely unexplored by artists and has a lot of potential.