The exhibition of works of the late Dr. A. R. Poduval, a contemporary of Raja Ravi Varma, at Durbar Hall Art Gallery is an absolute treat

‘Authenticating Objectivity’, an exhibition of paintings by Dr. A. R. Poduval curated by art critic Vijayakumar Menon is not as complicated as its name seems to suggest.

The show organised by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery (C) is to use a pop term - a must-see. The 70 odd works, at an elementary level or at a basic level, are windows to a different time and place. The paintings mostly in water colours, charcoal punctuated by the odd pen and ink sketch or pencil sketch capture diverse spaces, geographically and in terms of the subject too. Therefore if there is a sketch of lions in the Munich zoo or a portrait of an Arab lady, the landscape of a woodland in England or the Ooty landscape. These are the unhurried works of an artist who worked just for himself.

For the uninitiated, Dr. A. R. Poduval is considered a pioneer (in India) in the transparent style of painting with water colours. The style was current in Europe in the late 18th and 19th century. Dr. Poduval was born in Thrissur in 1884, he went to England in 1916 for his higher studies before returning to India much later. And during the course of his career he travelled to several places, several countries. The impressions, the sights, the people that he might have met all find expression in his paintings.

Some of the paintings, as early as those belonging to the early years of the 20th century, take us back to a time when painting was a simple act of doing something purely for the love of it. The role of the artist Dr. Poduval is almost akin to that of a chronicler. The sights and landscapes, for instance of Ooty that he has ‘recorded’ are illuminating, it is hard to imagine Ooty thus. The charm of the works is that it was, it had to be, unconscious.

Because some of the paintings are almost a century old, one cannot resist the temptation to look for tiny nuggets or clues to the artist. A painting of what probably was his study has a tiny jotting ‘My study’, the romantic in me would like to believe it is in the artist’s hand. The paintings are not all to do with his sojourns abroad, there are a a few paintings in the Kerala milieu – Thrissur pooram (scanty by today’s standards), a mother and daughter (in pen and ink. Could be any Malayali family of the time) and a woman playing the veena. This is the perfect show for a person with an interest in history. However, as an outstation visitor to the show commented, “the place should be lit better. The focus in terms of lighting should be more on the wonderful paintings.”

His portraits, of random people, of his wife arouse curiosity and probably have stories to tell, which alas we will never know but we can always imagine. Thank you to the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi for bringing such a wonderful treat to Kochi. The exhibition concludes on May 28.

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