Pravin Kannanur's paintings are refreshingly deceptive.

The first thing you notice about Pravin Kannanur's paintings is the minimalism and the recurring motifs of the dog, the crow and the ever present boat. The second thing you notice is that this apparent minimalism can be easily deceptive, because despite the repetition, every work is refreshingly unique.

Kicking off The Indian Collective's journey in Delhi is Tranceport, an exhibition of Pravin Kannanur's works at the Visual Arts Gallery in India Habitat Centre. The Indian Collective is a venture started to showcase the works of the country's artists and nurture their career as they make the transition from national to international spheres.

Pravin Kannanur, one the founders of Magic Lantern, a Chennai-based theatre group, clearly draws from his experiences in the world of theatre and interpretations, playing with construction and deconstruction of the mind in his paintings. The presence of the particular motifs in his paintings, he says, is an influence of his immediate surroundings. “I've always lived in coastal towns, and the dog, crow and boat are all constants in my environment, denizens so to say, of my world.”

In this range of acrylic on canvas, Kannanur uses specific stylistic devices to bring out the constantly changing and shifting perspectives of the human mind. The boats are all done in broken, stitch-like strokes. The animals are watery and have a surreal, see-through quality to them.

“I don't believe in one single reality, neither do I think that what you usually see is what you get. There's always a deeper truth if you look closely, hiding behind what the media and society paints as shining reality,” says Kannanur, explaining the reason for a sort of translucency to his works.

The disjoined strokes too, have a purpose, explains the artist. “None of my boats are sea-faring. Most are being built, under repair or broken beyond repair.” He equates this cycle of beginning and end to the deconstruction of human mind and thought; thus fluid and nebulous. Yet Kannanur uses strong earthy colours as the base for his canvases, bold oranges and deep greens that almost lay a sturdy, monochromatic bed for the million perspectives to take shape in.

Just by shifting positions, sometimes juxtaposing the boat and the animal in ways that play with the scale and perspective, Kannanur changes the entire tone of his painting. While a dog curled up and asleep inside a boat speaks of a cocooned reality, the giant crow towering over an old boat talks of bigger truths.

Though his paintings are devoid of any human figure, Kannanur says that through the boat, that symbolises the activity of building and creating, the idea of man is always there. The presence of the crow though, challenges the assumed superiority of man, he elaborates, as the crow has proved to be dextrous builders and tool makers.

The presence of the boat also hints at journeys and movements, the instrument that brought about the early journeys into distant lands. The title of the exhibition, Tranceport, too, talks of a journey, though it refers not only to the generic transport but a transcendental journey inside and outside of superficial reality.

Keywords: Pravin Kannanur