Four artists of The Madras Movement take a linear perspective to capture the rhythms of life

Walking into the exhibition “Vignettes, Passages, Parables — The Madras Movement” at Gallery Time and Space, the viewer could feel a quiet dignity emanating from the artworks on display.

Maybe it was the subdued colours on the walls displaying Palaniappan’s abstracts, the unusual “asymmetrical” sculptures of Nandagopal dotting the space, or Murlidharan’s canvas that seemed to be bursting with their own stories full of creatures from folk tales. The exhibition is showing the work of four artists — C. Douglas, K. Murlidharan, S. Nandagopal and Rm. Palaniappan, who are connected to “The Madras Movement”.

The first thing that claims attention in Palaniappan’s watercolour and mixed-media abstracts is the shapes, appearing geometric in construction. Lines zigzag in and out of these shapes that are sometimes arranged in layers, sometimes placed in the different parts of the small canvas. The colours, usually subdued and earthy, in green, maroon, black, blue, or orange, reinforce the sense of an incisive physical precision that somehow seems to convey a sense of sterile space.

Murlidharan’s large canvases are, on the other hand, bright and full of life. Though his work is deeply inspired by mythology (largely Indian), his expression is, as is described in a reflection by Chitra Mahesh in the exhibition, “surreal”. To the viewer, the surreality is found in the vivacious motifs that fill almost every inch of the canvas. He paints flowers, animals, birds, creepers, dots and designs and figures of Indian gods and goddesses in myriad expressions and colours.

Surreality is also found in the visual description of the central character, usually a divine figure such as the Indian goddess Laxmi, the Buddha or sphinx-like creatures (Rani). The choice of background colour ranging from pastel pink to shades of green is also unusual.

Meanwhile, Douglas takes simple subjects and motifs like butterflies and birds and creates dark imagery out of them. This is obvious in the “Poet and Butterfly” series where his main subjects are a man (sometimes blind) and a butterfly painted largely in greys and parchment yellows placed in a desolate setting. Douglas works with paper mounted on canvas, a medium that adds to the sense of eternal despair.

Nandagopal’s sculptures add relief to this sense of oppression with his eclectic sculptures in silver-plated copper and brass.

The use of silver adds lightness and life to the sculptures that appear like a story, stitched together with people, animals and birds inspired by Indian folk, and motifs ranging from sails and boats to fishing lines, dots, lines and numbers.

“We, at the Madras Movement had a different approach to art, which was linear and so the sculptures are frontal. Western art is all about perspective, whereas Indian art was about capturing the rhythms of life and we are losing our ancient methods of art and craft,” says Nandagopal, who was a student at the Madras School of Art when it had a separate crafts section where local artisans taught their craft. “I have used classical and folk elements and brought them into today’s world.”

“Vignettes, Passages, Parables — The Madras Movement” will be on view at Gallery Time and Space, 55, Lavelle Road, until February 17. For details, contact 22124117.