Thrayam, an exhibition of murals and glass paintings, is on at Durbar Hall Art Gallery

At the centre of the gallery hall stands a baby elephant. His rounded tusks pointing straight at you and his ears pulled back in playful curiosity. The sculpture in wood is approximately 6 ft long, 5 ft tall and 4 ft wide, weighs about 600 kgs and has the entire Vishnupuranam painted on it in mural style.

The ten avatars of Vishnu lie sprawled over the expansive back and belly, head and trunk, tusks and feet of the elephant with the ornate mural detailing painted down to the very last hair on its tail. Done in traditional natural colours, the piece is a showstopper at the exhibition organised by Thrayam, a group of three artists, at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery. “We have depicted the Vishnupuranam as it was dictated by Parashara maharshi to his disciple Mythreyan,” says A. Hariharan, one of the two artists who worked on the elephant. He and his friend C.D. Dileep took about four months to complete the work. “Painting murals in natural colours is a time-consuming process and it had to be done carefully,” Hariharan says.

The show has 23 murals done by Dileep and Hariharan on display. While many of them have been done in acrylic on canvas, some of them are in the authentic ancient mural style, finished in natural pigments. While most murals are depictions of epics and ancient Indian texts, the artists have stepped out of the typical mural discipline to experiment with their creative style. Dileep’s ‘Baul Singer’ (acrylic on canvas) is an example. Hariharan’s work that resembles ‘Ardhanareeswaran’, is a modern interpretation of the relationship between man and woman. “The colouring pattern and anatomy of the figures employed are that of authentic a mural. Only the shading and the medium and outlines would be contemporary,” Hariharan says.

The third member of the group, Ambily Saju, has specialised in glass painting and has been working on glass for the last 11 years. Her works cover a variety of themes including ones in mural-style, too. Ambily says glass painting is strenuous and it takes years of practice and patience to achieve perfection. Her Yashodha and Krishna done in vitrail on glass is striking, the translucent colours done in fluid strokes. “Glass is expensive, too,” says Ambily, who has put up 25 of her works on display. Ambily says she uses acid etching techniques, bitumen and special paints to convey the emotions in her mural works. Her works also include back-lit LEDs, which engage the viewer with its sheer visual drama.

Hariharan and Dileep, who studied together at the Institute of Mural Painting at Guruvayoor, work together under their banner, Swastik Mural Paintings. Though murals are loved and revered, young artists often hesitate to undertake training in murals as it involves a lot of hard work and patience, the artists feel. Right from learning the dhyana slokas to making the natural colours, the art can be mastered only through practice and experience. “Institutes offering short term mural courses are plenty. Such courses can help initiate artists into the world of murals. Those who want to practice it can always learn it in detail,” Hariharan says.

Thrayam plans to conduct exhibitions in Chennai and Dubai too. The show in Kochi is on till October 28.