The exhibition of artist Namboodiri’s paintings at Nanappa Art Gallery is, perhaps, one of the largest in a single venue

‘Ambalakulangare kulikkaanchennappol…’ that beautiful song from Odayyilninnu comes to life at Nanappa Art Gallery. Beautiful women by a temple pond preparing for a bath or leaving after one, washing clothes… looking at the heroine with eyebrows arched, as if making fun of her. A viewer keeps staring at the painting as if listening to the story.

Distinct style

This exhibition, which concludes on December 9, is probably the largest collection of Namboodiri’s paintings in a single venue. Of the 15 paintings on show, five are nudes. A first for Namboodiri, says Kaladharan, who has put the show together. The seven women in the tastefully done nudes hark back to a different era. It is pure old school drawing, even the poses and stances. It is as if Namboodiri delves into some distant memory, of his youth when he studied at the Madras School of Fine Arts under K.C.S. Panicker.

A painting depicting Kalari training shows a woman, in his signature style, watching the training. The figures in various Kalari poses, some in mid leap, some ducking, some lunging forward in attack mode give an impression of 3D. The painting conveys a feeling of depth and distance at the same time. The woman’s one palm is unseen, something the artist eye missed? “No, it is hidden by her mundu which is fluttering in the breeze,” the artist said. There is one painting of a Kathakali actor getting ready while there is another sitting on the floor donning make up. It is the kind of painting which tempts one to imagine the story behind the scene. The posture of the actor is such that… maybe he is conceited? Or maybe he is a talented artist? Is the artist on the floor an unlucky junior artist getting his first break? There are all these stories and more that the paintings invite the viewer to imagine, to weave.

In some of the paintings on show, the faces of his characters are never complete with all features. The expressions, though it might be just an arched eyebrow or half smile, speak volumes. The works, much larger in scope, are reminiscent of his illustrations.

As is his style, these paintings capture and convey that intangible essence of Kerala – with his beautiful, voluptuous women, Kathakali scenes, elephants and temple ponds too. Dry pastels, charcoal sketches, acrylic…are all put to good use. The steady hand belies his eighty plus years. Most of the paintings are executed in shades of ochre, beige and sandal. The nudes, two of them, have bright red and blue as the backdrop.

It is such a pleasure to be able to take in the genius of an artist at a time when Kochi is gearing up for its first art biennale.

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