It is music, particularly reggae and Bob Marley, books, images, films and photographs that inspire me, says Shibu Natesan

No signs of an artistic temperament. “Oh, but when I want to paint, I paint incessantly,” he says beaming. “For instance,” he continues, “during the Gujarat riots I was in Baroda and I could not step out of my studio there. All I had in my house was some grapes. I lived on that and painted the picture that eventually won me the Triennial prize of the Lalitkala Akademie in 2005.

Yen for gardening

The pristine white walls of Chitralaya act as a perfect backdrop for the profusion of flowering plants and greenery in the garden. Obviously, Shibu has an eye for colour. “And a green thumb too,” says Shibu, tying back his hair into a pony tail. “Gardening is my passion. My friend Gopikrishna, also an artist, and I buy a lot of plants, especially flowering plants.”

However, plants, people or places are not Shibu's muse. “It is music, particularly reggae and Bob Marley, books, images, films and photographs that inspire me,” says Shibu.

In fact his first series called ‘The Futility of Device,' exhibited in Mumbai in 1995, was inspired by photographs of archaeological remains. “But I am not a photographer; it is photos clicked by others that inspire me. There is a kind of impersonalism in the snaps that I then personalise in my art.” His second series called ‘Missing' accentuated his fascination for ‘photo-realism'; a feature that has become his calling card.

Art critics and curators have pointed out how Shibu's works aesthetically blend realism and fantasy to create visual works of magical realism; a dream-like state where the real and familiar merge seamlessly against unreal and strange images. Cheetahs, lions, zebras, goats and swans are juxtaposed with familiar scenes of urban and rural domesticity. Shibu's subjects vary from animals, landscapes and flowers to portraits and symbolism. “Perhaps, it is because I have been drawing and painting ever since I can remember. Inspiration can be that bit of a news photograph, the colours of a flower, a face… Initially, it was all the things around me that I admired – Bruce Lee, Vivekananda, pictures of Gods and Goddesses…But in those days my first love was literature.”

Shibu remembers it was his aunt who advised the bibliophile who planned to study literature to join the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram.

“My eyes were opened when I was exposed to the great artists and their works during my student days. That opened up the horizons of my art and artistic vision. There was a radical group in the college that discussed movies, books and poems (Indian and Latin American authors and poets mainly) and politics… I was greatly influenced by that,” recalls Shibu.

While doing his post-graduation in print-making from Baroda University (the only one from his batch to get admission there), Shibu began selling his works. “I never had to struggle. I remember I sold my first work, a lithograph, for Rs. 400.”

Finding his niche

But the gold medallist from Baroda remembers searching for that elusive style, an idiom or a visual expression that he wanted to capture on canvas. He found that later when he visited Europe during a two-year residency at Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 1996-97 where he also won the Uriot Prize. At around the same time, he also bagged the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary for young artists.

“I was able to travel around Europe and it was all about discovering new styles and approaches to work. I was inspired by the works of German artist Fredrich Caspar David and Belgian artist Leon Spilliaert. It was a revelation,” says Shibu.

Considered one of the brightest stars in the artistic community, Shibu's paintings have been eagerly snapped up by collectors. But the artist says he never dwells upon his past works or collects any of his own works. Perhaps that is why most of the paintings on the walls of his house bear the signature of his wife, Kate Bowes, who lives in London. Shibu shuttles between London and Attingal and is a frequent visitor to Baroda where he has a studio.

His wish list? “A space in the capital city for artists to gather, discuss and brainstorm and to exhibit their works,” says Shibu. “All I want is to collect books and music and paint,” signs off Shibu.

No signs of an artistic temperament. “Oh, but when I want to paint, I paint incessantly,” he says beaming. “For instance,” he continues, “during the Gujarat riots I was in Baroda and I could not step out of my studio there. All I had in my house was some grapes. I lived on that and painted the picture that eventually won me the Triennial prize of the Lalitkala Akademie in 2005.

Keywords: Shibu Natesanartpainting