Laxman Aelay embraces hyper-realism and attributes his change of perspective to his research

There was a time when an art enthusiast would spot Laxman Aelay’s paintings from afar; paintings that came alive with austere yet colourful landscape and people of Telangana. His paintings reflected his small-town origins. Then, about five years ago when Aelay was drawn to monochromes, he also realised his paintings had to speak to a larger audience while staying rooted in tradition. Aelay’s new solo exhibition ‘Fellow Travellers’ is an assured step in that direction. “It’s been 14 years since I had a solo exhibition in Hyderabad,” he tells us. The period of absence wasn’t by design. Exhibitions in other parts of the country kept him away.

The series merges his skills as an artist and a painter. Not many know that Aelay is an enthusiastic photographer. “I had photographic references for some of the paintings that use the hyper realism technique,” he tells us. A particular work titled ‘lullaby dreams’ shows a child deep in sleep resting against the crook of the mother’s neck. The minute details pertaining to skin and hair texture have a photographic quality to them.

His technique of playing with textures, juxtaposing people and backgrounds in layers to render a 3D quality have all gone through a transformation, says Aelay. The transformation is significant in themes as well. Motifs of a tiger, leather puppets used by paithani and kalamkari artists, mythological faces one would associate with folklore are all skilfully used in the background. “Scroll paintings are used in Telangana folk narratives or ‘kula purana’ when rural folk trace their caste genealogy. I’ve used these motifs. It is also hard to ignore the social, political and economic changes in Telangana and the rest of Andhra Pradesh now,” he explains.

Aeley is pursuing his doctorate on paintings and performances at English and Foreign Languages University and all that he read up about folklore of the 11, 12 and 13th centuries, he says, subconsciously helped changed his perspectives. The crux of his work draws from tradition while he manages to show people in transition.

“These are not primitive folk. In recent years, more people have migrated to Hyderabad, which in itself is a city in transition. The new flyovers and the expressway are changing the way we refer to areas. In areas surrounding Mehdipatnam, instead of colony names we’ve got used to referring to localities with the number on the pillars,” he says. Aelay shows migrant workforce under one such flyover. The bags they carry have motifs of folklore to hint at their roots.

Most paintings in ‘Fellow Travellers’ series, now on display at Kalakriti Art Gallery, are life-sized works and each painting took two months to complete. “The series is a result of two years of work,” smiles Aelay. The series will be showcased at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, in November.