Veteran artist Kaladharan tells how the vibrant art facility created by him has come about serendipitously

A chat with Kaladharan is a trip down memory lane, one populated by stalwarts of the late 60s and 70s, when art was testing boundaries and society was changing; and both trying to engage with each other. Probably that's why Kaladharan cannot understand why he is in the spotlight. “When there are eminent people in the field, why focus on me?” ‘Guruthwam,' a principle that harks back to another era (broadly translated, it means the student being respectful to his gurus) is what Kaladharan is a personification of.

He is disarmingly honest and admits that till he was 22 or thereabouts he was ignorant about the ‘arts'. But then it was written in his stars, actually his karma. “My father named me Kaladharan, because astrological calculations and charts predicted that the fine arts would be my area of work…and I would be ‘known' because of that,” he laughs, stressing on the ‘known' as if it were a joke.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan once told Kaladharan that his (Adoor's) wife would always ask him who this Kaladharan was. who calls up and asks to speak to ‘Gopalakrishnan', not bothering with the ‘niceties' and ‘formalities' of respectful prefixes or suffixes for that matter. He can get Kanayi Kunhiraman to fashion a ‘small' sculpture as a memento for Orthic Puraskaram; get MT to participate in an evening function at his Orthic Creative Centre/Nanappa Art Gallery or if one wants to go the pop culture way then have Asin dropping in to say hello to her old art teacher because she was in the vicinity of Orthic, formerly Kerala Kalapeetom. He just laughs, not quite ‘ho ho', but he can easily be our answer to Santa. He squirms, all the names being bandied about make him uncomfortable. “I don't like name dropping, just telling you because you insist.”

Summer classes

Long, long ago before summer vacation classes became popular Kaladharan's painting classes for kids were extremely popular. Asin actually belonged to one such batch. The classes, old timers say, were very different. Kaladharan, occasionally, would dress up (‘fancy') and introduce art to kids. He was the magician, dressed in wacky threads, who showed kids a different world. Some of them are grateful for those early classes that prepared them for the future.

In fact his introduction to the ‘arts' was serendipitous. He accompanied a friend who was looking for a violin class at Kalabhavan; that trip led him to the paintbrush and then to the Kerala Institute of Art, in 1972, and finding M. V. Devan, Namboodiri and C. N. Karunakaran as teachers. “That was during the evenings…in the mornings I joined M. R. D. Dethan's Cochin School of Arts. There I was the butt of jokes because here I was, coming from a place where ‘modern' art was being taught. Dethan master painted realistic works and that is how the students there painted. I was there for a year.” It was there that he was introduced to art and the ‘prasthanam' (movement) that was peaking. He still remembers Devan master's art history classes. Modern art, in particular caught his fancy. The more time he spent there the more he learnt. He acknowledges his friends as his greatest teachers, “I haven't studied beyond high school and whatever I have learnt is from my friends who have been generous enough to teach me things at different times.”

While there he was exposed to a whole lot of things, in terms of art. “That was when the six works were commissioned by Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA) to artists. I saw greats such as Devan Maash, Namboodiri etc at work, what an experience that was.” There he learnt more than art; he formed friendships and probably about being a facilitator too.

That was the time when Aravindan's genius was finding expression in the movies. Kaladharan was witness to Devan Master and Artist Namboodiri working on posters for ‘Uttarayanam'.

In1975, Fine Arts College, Thiruvananthapuram was founded and Kanayi moved to teach there, P.K.Soman, left to study at the MS University in Baroda. Therefore by 1977, says Kaladharan, since the seniors had left, it fell upon him to help Devan Master with the Kerala Institute of Arts and by '78 Kerala Kalapeetom came to be. Devan master was the founder-secretary and Kalapeetom came to be Kaladharan's ‘karmabhoomi'. So much so that in collective memory, Kaladharan is synonymous with Kalapeetom.

‘Sahitya Sandhya', ‘Nataka Sandhya', ‘Sangeetha Sayhanam' and ‘Nritya Sayhanam' organised by Kalapeetom through the 80s, 90s and 2000 and sporadically in the last decade, were and still are popular. “The first one was a story reading by K. Vijayalakshmi.

From then on we started organising it on a regular basis. The rent for the chair was Rs. 2 per chair; and to justify the cost we hit upon the idea of combining other forms of art…music, theatre, literature, exhibitions, discussions on art or any other form under the broad umbrella of culture as part of the cultural evenings. Word spread and people just kept coming; there were fewer editions of newspapers and no ‘channels' except Doordarshan…it was a good time then.”

“Kalapeetom was looking for a plot and I suggested the property that my father had to Devan Maash; he met my father and well,...the good thing was if someone misbehaved in Kalapeetom I could throw them out and if I was ever asked if the place belonged to my father I could gladly answer in the affirmative,” he jokes. Kalapeetom shifted to PT Usha Road in 2000, but now, it exists only on paper, without a room of its own!

Orthic Creative Centre

The land on which Kerala Kalapeetom is situated belongs to Kaladharan. In 2005, Kaladharan built his house where Kalapeetom was and along with it the Orthic Creative Centre. The art gallery here is called Nanappa Art Gallery, after his father. Don't reach out for the art textbooks, the word ‘orthic' is one Kaladharan's creations; it is derived from ‘orma' (memory) therefore ‘orthic'.

Again a joke, a sense of humour which reflected in the nomenclature of his exhibitions. He went through a phase when he prefixed his exhibitions with names of women – Aneede, Mollyinte, Shobhade… While he was working on Shobhade, a marriage proposal came and guess what the girl was called? Yes, his wife is Shobha, “I agreed (to the proposal) in a jiffy!” he guffaws.

Amidst all this, in 1984 came the Cochin Film Society. To paraphrase Kaladharan, there was no satellite TV those days, let alone all the perks that come with it. “Getting to a see films in 1982 was a rarity and it cost a lot of money. We got in touch with teachers at the Cochin University who were regulars at Kalapeetom who helped get the films. The first was Satyajit Ray's the Apu trilogy. That is how it all began.”

‘Little Theatre', another of Kaladharan's babies was born in the 90s. “For almost a decade, we did good work and then like all good things it split down the middle…but then it is a law of nature.” He does a flashback on how Kanayi asked him whether his glass paintings would break. That is when, Kaladharan says, the impermanence of things, and art struck him.

Way back in the late 80s M. K. K. Nair asked him, quite seriously, “How long do you expect to go on with this and what do you expect from all this?”

His answer? “I didn't think about money; it has never been in my scheme of things. I never gave honorariums …in retrospect I feel I ought to have given but then nobody said anything. It is not about the money of course when the bills come and the fees have to be paid, yes money matters, but never more than art!”

And Kaladharan speaks from his heart.

Keywords: artKaladharan