Artist Pradeep Puthoor sketches his journey on canvas

In most movies, an artist's studio is often depicted with a huge canvas in the centre and tubes of paint, paint brushes and other paraphernalia lying around. And so, when artist Pradeep Puthoor invited me to his studio at Vattiyoorkavu, I was pleasantly surprised to see that reel often does mimic real. There were tubes and bottles of paint and paint brushes scattered on a table and a half-finished canvas in the centre of the room.

A couple of his paintings grace the studio walls. Pradeep points to a huge canvas in a corner. “That is one of my latest paintings. It is from a series of paintings called ‘The Trap' that was exhibited recently at Nobel Sage Gallery, London. The focus of this series is on the predatory character of Nature and men,” says Pradeep.

In this picture in hues of pink, one of Pradeep's favourite colours, as it represents the “human flesh, blood…,” birds stand tall. “Birds are innocent creatures that are unaware of threats to their existence, and so I have them juxtaposed against the snares of man and nature.”

Pradeep's paintings are a blend of reality and imagination. Most of his canvases are a study of anatomy as it has amoebas, veins, bones, spinal cords…merging with the images from his mind's eye.

The obvious question when one views his works, therefore, is whether he is a Science major? Laughs Pradeep: “No. My father, Sukumaran, was an Ayurveda doctor. In fact, he wanted me to become a doctor and had secured an admission for me at an Ayurveda college. My heart, however, was in art. My brother, Prasad, is a doctor and my wife, Raji, is a Zoology graduate. I guess being around Science has influenced my style of painting.”

It was his father who encouraged him to pursue art during his childhood days, says Pradeep. “He thought it would be a fine hobby, he never imagined I would make a career out of it.” He recalls how his father had a collection of art magazines and clippings of old newspapers that had pictures of Ravi Varma paintings. “I was inspired by those paintings by Ravi Varma. The colours, the lines….”

And, while most parents would freak out when their kids use the walls as a canvas, Pradeep's father would permit him to do so. “He would give me more paint, more colours.” And colour is “oxygen” for Pradeep. “I love bright colours. They are tools of expression for me.”

His paintings, he says, encourage viewers to use their imagination. “Everything is not what it seems in my painting. What I see or imagine, might not be what you decipher. They are not mystical figures, these are live forms seen through my eyes. And yes, my paintings often portray decay of man and nature but for me, death leads to life or resurrection. It is only when one starts thinking about or starts valuing life that one starts doing good and seeing the good in others. My paintings lie between dream and reality,” says Pradeep.

An alumnus of the Government College of Fine Arts Pradeep hails from from Puthoor, Kottarakara. He came to the city to study advertising at the College of Fine Arts. Upon completion of his course, Pradeep worked for a couple of ad firms and also as an illustrator for a Mumbai edition of a Malayalam daily. “But somehow, it was not my thing. My works had a surreal effect, which did not go down too well with the bosses. I did win an international award for an anti-drug poster during that period though,” says Pradeep who also worked as a lecturer at his alma mater for a brief period.

In 1992, Pradeep received Kerala Lalitakala Akademi's first national award for his painting ‘Air Airy,' which featured the negative side of life, and a year later, the Human Resource Development Board, Government of India, gave him a Junior Research Fellowship for painting.

“And that was when I started devoting my time to the paint brush; art became a full time job,” says Pradeep who went on to receive the British Overseas League Award for his work ‘Mangled Mother' and a fellowship from Jackson Pollock Foundation in New York. The short stint in the United States and London, he says, has helped widen his horizon. “I visited the studios of great masters, museums, galleries and attended various workshops. It was amazing to finally see the works of various masters like Van Gogh and Picasso in real, instead of merely seeing them in magazines and the like. I also learnt new techniques at these workshops.”

Christie's auction

A career high was when his water colour ‘Beloved Tiger' was auctioned at Christie's, along with those by renowned artistes like Damien Hirst, Banksy, Peter Blake and Spencer Tunick. “It was a surreal experience; my painting being first exhibited and then later being auctioned along with their works.”

So, how much did the painting fetch? “Part of the money went to the gallery that organised the event and the rest to charity. I received but a paltry sum,” he smiles.

Although money makes the world go round, it is not what Pradeep seeks through his art. While there are artists who play to the gallery, Pradeep feels such paintings lack soul. “Art should come from your heart. Art should speak to people; it should have a subtle message.”

While many artists rest on their laurels and ignore the latest techniques and developments in the art world, Pradeep is always on a quest to learn more. “I still believe I'm a student of art. One should keep oneself updated in any field; art is no exception.”

The artist, when he is not taking a break to read or to surf the Internet, is currently working on a series of paintings for an upcoming exhibition in South Korea in September. “I'm also working on a series for an exhibition in Delhi later this year.”

Art attack

Like his father, Pradeep too encourages his kids, Sneha and Meghna, to express their thoughts on the wall. He even urges his neighbours' kids to splash colours on the wall. “Both my kids are reasonably good artists. I encourage them to participate in any painting contests that come their way. It doesn't matter if they win or lose.” So does he teach them the various techniques in art? “No. I firmly believe children should be left to themselves. Let them find themselves. When you coach them, it's your thoughts, your expressions that you are feeding them.”

Keywords: Pradeep Puthoor