Sam John Verghese’s surreal paintings travel through forests, landscapes and historic sites

Nature appears to be an inseparable part of Sam John Verghese’s art. It appears as cascading waterfalls, a canopied forest or creepers that cling to the walls of historic ruins. His solo show is on display at Gallery Sri Parvati.

The 20-year-old’s pencil sketches and transparent water colour paintings are surreal and take one into forests, historic sites and landscapes across South India — whether it is the pine forest in Kodaikanal, the Gingee and Sadras forts or the Office of Forest Conservation in Vellore. “I love Nature and trees. I find God’s work very inspiring,” says the artist.

Sam’s grandfather, a commercial artist, was one of his inspirations. “I began painting at the age of six, and when I came to know about my grandfather’s interest in art, I was completely taken over by it. So, by the time I was 11, I was learning under V. Danushkodi, who taught me many techniques,” he adds.

The colours of Sam’s art are earthy and there is a certain life about them. The work Number 14 depicts a dilapidated shanty barely standing on its wooden poles. Set against a dramatically auburn sky, the painting captures a moment in time. In front of the shanty, there are two tables, and from one, a torn sheet flutters in the breeze. On the other, there is a tea container and a mud pot, as if someone left them there and intended to come back.

Another watercolour painting is of a colonial bungalow with its stately columns holding up the tall entranceway. The slanting terracotta roof blends into a limestone structure with a courtyard. Behind the building, a vast green area stretches out. A man walks in front with a phone in hand. A blue sign board on the front of the building reads Office of Conservation of Forests.

One of his pencil sketches is of the Mamallapuram shore temple. It is a silhouette and yet there are many details — from the sculptures lined at the entrance to those on the gopurams above. Another is of a grand old tree that is shedding its leaves, watching the ground beneath it thrive with life. There are more trees far away, and this tree stands tall, ageing gracefully.

His take on Sadras Fort is like a photograph. One can see the broken warehouses with their limestone and exposed brick, the little building in the middle that is ruined and consumed by a tree, and the fort ramparts.

(Sam’s exhibition is on display at Gallery Sri Parvati, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, till January 12)