Manuel Nath talks about how he helps autistic and differently-abled children find self-expression through art

Artist Manuel Nath draws inspiration from people and places. So the self-taught artist travelled across India, capturing vignettes of the places he visited in pen and ink. “It was easy to pack, carry and use as I didn’t have to wait for the paint to dry.”

Living a ‘gypsy’ life, he earned a living by falling back on the good old ‘barter system’. “I would do something for a village I was in, like paint a picture of their temple for them, and they would, in turn, look after my food and lodging.”

He had been staying in Margao in Goa when he received an invitation to teach art to autistic children. It was Joe Mattackal and Jolly Johnson, friends of Manuel’s, who introduced him to H20 Rehab and Facilitation Centre, Karyavattom. The organisation was looking for an art therapist and they wondered if Manuel would be interested in the post. Although Manuel has no formal training in art therapy, he decided to try it out after a bit of research on the subject.

For the last four months, Manuel has been teaching art to autistic and differently-abled children at H20.

“I started of by teaching the students how to paint on pots. It helps them develop their sensory processing and motor skills. It also helps them build their self-confidence as they view their end product. Expression is a major impediment for these children. Art therapy provides them the platform they need to explore their creative and artistic sensibilities without inhibitions.”

The end result of his work with the children is on exhibit at La Gallery 360, Nanthencode, where tiny pots and a large canvas painted by the children are showcased. Pointing to the large canvas in a corner, Manuel says: “This painting was painted at a camp organised by H20 and Latha Kurian Rajeev on May 21. The children were asked to paint a subject of their choice on the canvas one at a time. I just filled in the blank spaces without altering the children’s artwork.”

The children had a tough time drawing on canvas, he says, as they are used to resting their elbows and painting on paper. “I had to hang the canvas.” To get them to open up creatively, he first had them practise on paper. “At first, most of the kids drew houses, the sun, mountains…it was only after I encouraged them to step out of their comfort zone that they started to paint animals and the like and started expressing themselves. Forty five children drew their favourite images on the canvas.”

Manuel feels that the talent to draw and paint is innate in most of us. For instance, Manuel says he knew he would be an artist as a child and so did his parents. Born in Karwar in Karnataka, Manuel seems to be drawn by the sea and the coast.

Living by the sea and “fond of fish”, Manuel’s latest collection of paintings is an ode to Goan fisherwomen. “In the earlier days, art was used to document lives and events, like those by the caveman for instance. I am trying to do something similar. I want to portray the lives of these women, whom I find beautiful, enigmatic and fashionable, for posterity to see,” says the artist.

While he does rue at the lack of opportunity to train in art, he says, that it is a blessing when he considers how his art is unlike his contemporaries, as it is not restricted by the rules and grammar of art. As he grows as an artist year by year, Manuel says his style and taste in art evolves. If pen and ink were his companions during his early days as an artist, oil paintings are what he focusses on now. The themes for his paintings too have changed over the years.

The children’s works will be on display at La Gallery 360 till June 6.

Arresting art

One can view some of Manuel’s paintings too at La Gallery 360. With simple lines and bold strokes of the brush, he creates works that capture one’s eye and imagination. Kerala also finds a place in Manuel’s paintings. Proceeds from the exhibition-cum-sale, which concludes today go to H20.

Workshop

Manuel Nath in association with H20 (Helping Hands Organisation), a non-government organisation working for differently-abled children, will be holding a workshop for the children today. Manuel will be teaching the children to colour inside ‘given lines’. Sculptor and performance artiste Anil Dayanad will hold a ‘Performance art workshop’ for the children.