“Timeline: The Evolution of Perception”, on display at three venues in the city, traces Thota Tharrani's 45-year journey as an artist

Stark white rooms are intimidating. But in Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road, there are about a hundred paintings in tall, black frames running right across the white walls of the gallery, interrupting the emptiness and inviting the viewer. Matching the ambience, the artist who gave them life waits in the centre, seated on a wooden block dressed in a white kurta and black trousers — Thota Tharrani.

This is the ‘Script Series' in his elaborate exhibition, “Timeline: The Evolution of Perception”, where his set designs for “Nayagan”, “Thalapathi”, “Bombay”, “Jeans” and other films frame the walls as mere watercolours on inch graph paper. “It's easy to calculate the dimensions of the sets if you use this paper,” he says, pointing to the measurements on the side. “We first have preliminary sketches and then a second draft with more detailing. If there are further changes following discussions with the rest of the crew, we incorporate them.”

The exhibition is a recap of Tharrani's 45-year journey as an artist. He began his career when he was only 12, working with his father on the sets. He reminisces that almost any design for movies back then was the art director's responsibility. “This is how things were done,” he says, adding, “When I worked with my father, we would design the interiors, costumes and everything else. Now, every director has around 10 assistants, each in charge of a different aspect. I still belong to the old school, because I think as an art director, we decide the colour schemes for the entire movie.” On the wall behind him is a sketch for the song ‘Kurukku Chiruththavale' in “Mudhalvan”, where stacked-up terracotta pots tower over a couple in rustic attire.

Taking me around the gallery, Tharrani, who came into the limelight with “Raja Paarvai”, “Mouna Raagam” and “Nayagan”, talks about his love for art and the changes in his perception over four decades. “I paint all the time. It's like being away from the madding crowd,” he laughs. “I experiment a lot with art and this exhibition has everything from watercolours, abstracts, mosaics and acrylics to sculptures. I paint 10 subjects at a time, often jumping from one to the other. I realised that every time you go back to a particular topic after a gap, your perception of it changes.”

The exhibition showcases a variety of his paintings — 300 in Lalit Kala Akademi alone, with more in Focus Art Gallery (C.I.T Colony, Alwarpet) and Art and Soul (Akkarai, ECR). ‘Force', ‘Symphony', ‘Ganesha', ‘Script Series' and ‘Rajasthan' are some of the subjects on display, while ‘Mechanical Deities', his sculpture series, comprises large wooden blocks with deities carved out of nuts, bolts and other discarded mechanical devices.

The Symphony series has walls of dark colours complemented by colourful confetti and stars, while the Force series comprises violent shades that merge. There is a series of paintings and sketches on roosters, feathers flared, neck turned and poised to fight. “Some of these date back to the late 1960s,” he explains, showing sketches of Moore Market in 1969 and a sepia-tinted Notre Dame de Paris.

In a cloud of pink and red, Lord Shiva, eyes closed, is serene, while Kali emerges from behind, hair dishevelled and tongue out. Pass this painting to gaze at Vishnu's Kalki avatar after which you'll arrive at Tharrani's name inscribed in different languages on mirror-like mosaic.

“Art is my life,” he smiles, “I have to draw at least one line a day.”

The exhibition, “Timeline: The Evolution of Perception”, is on at the three venues till December 23.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012