Multidimensional, Dhenuga speaks of art, architecture and literature.

“Verticality in Indian aesthetics entwined with red, blue and yellow colours in architecture, is a kind of celebration of primaries,” states Dhenuga. His red-blue chair has the primaries in vertical and horizontal lines. “The house and chair by me are a tribute to Ried Veld, 19 century Netherlands architect, who contributed through the primaries and with black, white and grey, the non-colours,” says Dhenuga.

“Vertical forms in architecture remind one of temple architecture. It deletes forms such as circular, semi-circular, oblong, parabolic and hyperbolic, which increases the cost of the building. In colours, it represents the primaries of Indian murals and non colours!” points out Dhenuga.

Dhenuga’s house represents Indian, as well as European version architectural compositions in verticality.

Dhenuga, who began his career as a critic in modern art in Tamil with an article, Taxidermists are needed, has an impressive list of publications to his credit, besides winning a number of awards for them. His writings cover Indian and Western art. When his first book of essays, ‘Vannangal Vadivangal,’ was published 25 years ago, the acclaimed critic Ka.Na. Subramaniam hailed it as an oasis in the Tamil desert.

Multidimensional, Dhenuga talks effortlessly about modern paintings, sculptures and literature. He was awarded this year’s Care School of Architecture Award with the first K.N. Ramajayam Memorial Citation for his work in documenting cultural and performing arts traditions of the Cauvery delta region. This writer interviewed Dhenuga, who was in Chennai recently. Excerpts:

You won an architectural award recently. What are your experiences in this line?

I had a multidisciplinary pursuit that included modern sculpture, painting, new poetry, fiction and architecture. I was born in Swamimalai, close to the College of Fine Arts and I have read almost all the books in the library, which prompted me to see the original works of the artists. From 1973 onwards, I have been attending international art exhibitions held once in three years in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, and Alliance Francaise, Bangalore and Chennai.

I have been a member of the Jury in many exhibitions and have given lectures in many schools of architecture on cubism and deconstruction.

I have seen all the international embassies’ architecture in New Delhi. I have also visited almost all the temples in the North and the South.

Tamils do not think much of preservation and conservation of ancient temples. They only visit them for worship. Works on Van Gogh are well known in Trans Atlantic countries. The available literature on our heritage temples should be brought to light too.

Apparently, Ka.Na.Su., M.V Venkatram, Vittal Rao and Karichan Kunju appreciated Your literary skill and achievements have been lauded by veterans…

Yes, my first article ‘Taxidermists are needed’ was published in Kanayazhi when Dr. Indira Parthasarathy and Ashokamitran were on the editorial board. I received praise from Vittal Rao for another article. Karichan Kunju, while appreciating my article on the idiom of Vidyasankar Sthapathi, said, ‘it is a sculptural idiom of Dhenuga’.

After completing my degree and reading books on modern and traditional art in the library of Kumbakonam College of Fine Arts, I went to Delhi purely for knowledge’s sake. At that time I had no intention to write. But at the request of M.V. Venkatram and others, I began writing articles. That is how my first book got the Best Book award from the State Government. My knowledge on Vidyasankar Sthapathi gave me the confidence to write a book on him and this was published in the 7th International Conference-cum-Seminar on Tamil studies in Mauritius in 1989.

About your writing style that is said to be complex… language is said to be difficult to comprehend?

Well, my multidisciplinary approach, made my language in narrative style difficult and complex. Only serious readers could read and understand it. But from my books on Da Vinci and Van Gogh, I have changed it to a simple and readable style. The change has occurred after having read the works of Albert Camus, French philosopher and Nobel laureate.

Is there a reason for writing a book on Piet Mondrian?

De Stejl

Your views on visual poem and the new poetry movement?

From Ka. Na. Subramaniam, Na. Pichamurthi to Shanmuga Subbiah, the form has held its sway. Gnanaratham Now I feel the concept of poetry has undergone change and in some countries it is extinct. I feel this oral text form has to be changed: instead of aural, it should be visual. American poets such as Ezra Pound, Cubist Poet E.E. Cummings, Luxun in China and Tagore in Bengal made poetry in visual media. When Cummings was unsuccessful as a Cubist painter, he became a Cubist poet by using techniques such as embedding of words, (word) dismemberment, omission, etc. The Tamil tradition in this line is over 1400 years old. Saint Thirugnanasambandar wrote Ratha Bandam (in temple car pulling form) called ‘Thaer Ezhu Kootrirukkai.’ Thirumangai Azhwar and Arunagirinathar also wrote Ratha Bandam. Tamil poets are, therefore, pioneers in the visual form of poetry.

On your transition from Sangam literature to the fine arts...

I was drawn to modern literature through modern and abstract paintings of the West. Tamil has attained the status of a classical language, along with Sanskrit. According to Gnanasambandar, Tamil and Sanskrit are our two eyes. Most of the inscriptions are in Grantha and Sanskrit. Our tradition of Tamil is 2,300 years old. Sangam literature is a fine example of its acceptance all over the world. It is simple in a dramatised form, celebrating love, hospitality, warfare, cultural and artistic activities.

There are hundreds of styles of poetry such as Agam-Puram-Asiriyapaa-Venba-Kavadichindu-Malaimatru-Nagabhandam-Murasubhandam, etc. We have a dance tradition right from Silappadikaram, which is 1,800 years old. The Thanjavur Quartet conceptualised the dance form to the resonance and stage acoustics.

These are the treasures being propagated by NRIs in the countries they live in. This culture should be preserved and the subjects included in regular curriculum. This will ensure preservation of our cultural heritage.