Iverkala near Kottarakara is a picturesque village but a stone's throw from the Kallada River and far away from the madding crowds, so to speak. Here, nature runs riot in all its idyllic splendour and life is as laidback, as traditional and as quaint as can be.
It comes as no surprise then that the village, its people and its customs are the main inspirations for artist Syamlal Iverkala, a native of the place. Fifteen of Syamlal's acrylic paeans on canvas to life and tradition in rural Kerala, are on display under the title of ‘Idyl' at the Shangri-lla Art Gallery in Vazhuthacaud.
“The 15 paintings can be broadly divided into two categories. One delves into the traditions and customs of life in Central Travancore and the other depicts reality within reality – the world beyond the real,” says the artist as he points out his works.
One side of the gallery is dedicated to the first mentioned set. And it can't be more different from the other, least of all in the use of colour. Sunny yellows, bold reds, radiant oranges, strong greens, bright blues and the like create a rather vibrant effect juxtaposed with easily recognisable aspects of life (or what was life) in rural Kerala, such as labourers in a paddy field, oxen, the Kuthiyottam and Ketttukazcha festival at the Chettikulangara temple, the Theyyam of the Thee Chamundi, Kathakali masks and so on.
“The choice of colours is deliberate. These are the predominant colours you would see in any village, especially during festivals,” says the artist, a graduate of the College of Fine Arts in the city, who is now an art teacher at TKM Centenary Public School, Kollam.
The second set, together subtitled as ‘In the other world' has equally beautiful colours, albeit of an entirely different palette. This time the artist finds expression with deep violets, cool blues and soothing greens.
They are colours that instantly calm the senses; again intentional says the artist for “nature gives that effect.” Here nature is represented as “super-sized” letting us know that there is something “unreal about reality” and that there are hidden depths to everything, even water-droplets and falling leaves.
In this series one of the more arresting paintings is one of African payal (Salvinia molesta), with its pretty violet flowers that clog the waters of Kuttanad – something that the artist saw on a trip to the area.
A submerged figure holds aloft what appears to be a line of flags but what are, in fact, plastic covers that double as flags. A bird is seen pecking on the water captured in these covers.
Thus issues such as pollution, drinking water scarcity, and yes, the political heritage of the area too are highlighted. Another painting depicts fish blissfully swimming in a pond unaware of the dredging machine that can transport them into the labyrinths of another world.
An extension of this set are two vibrant geometric abstracts in blues, oranges, greens and reds on the theme of molecular life – cells, DNA and so on. “They are after all the basis of life itself,” muses the artist. The exhibition is on till August 29.