K. C. Nagarajan loves to experiment with forms and styles. And this is evident in his works on show at Ambassador Pallava

To stop and look at veteran artist K. C. Nagarajan's works over the years is to take a journey through his three decades as a teacher of art.

His recently concluded exhibition at La Galerie D' Expression at Hotel Ambassador Pallava featured a mix of media and styles, from portraits to geometric designs, graphic art to wooden sculptures. That kind of variety, as much as anything else, is this artist's signature touch.

“I've always loved to innovate, to explore new styles and concepts with each work,” says Nagarajan, who taught at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, for years, and recently retired as the principal of the Government College of Fine Arts, Kumbakonam. “People advised me that I should keep doing portraits, which were well-appreciated, but my aim was to constantly experiment.”

That experimentation has closely followed his trajectory as an art teacher. For instance, his vibrantly coloured geometric abstracts were inspired by the design course he taught for many years. “These creations came to me while teaching the students to depict 2D and 3D geometric forms,” he says.

His evocative portraits of rural women were often based on the ‘live-model' drawing classes all students took. And his series of graphic art works — linoleum and collographic prints of detailed depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses — come from the time when he worked in the college's Graphic Arts (or Printmaking) department under famous artist R. B. Bhaskaran. “I automatically got involved with printmaking when I worked with him,” he recalls.

His love of teaching is obvious as our interview at the gallery turns into an impromptu mini lecture on printmaking techniques, and a couple of curious visitors stop by to listen to him. It's not surprising when he says he has no regrets about having made the choice to become a teacher in the 70s.

“When K.C.S. Paniker founded Cholamandal Artists' Village in the 1960s, I was part of the group that joined him,” he says. “Four years later, I opted for the security of a government teaching job. He asked me not to leave, said I had the potential to grow at Cholamandal. But I've never looked back.”

Of course, not all his art has been tied to his teaching. Some of it has been out of personal interest — his softly rounded wooden sculptures, for example, or his finely detailed pen and ink drawings that play with perspective and elevation.

It is, in all, a testament to his love for all forms of artistic expression. “I can never choose a favourite style,” he says with a smile. “I just create whatever I feel like at that particular time.”

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