Art He may be deaf to the world, but artist A.Murugesan finds joy in his drawings in good times and bad, writes Akila Kannadasan
It's not easy getting artist A.Murugesan to speak. Every time a question is posed, he shakes his head. “I'm not all that great to be written about”. But when he does talk, I realise there is more to him than the multitude of exceptional line drawings and paintings he has rendered.
The 65-year-old artist has lived a closeted life because of his disability – he lost his sense of hearing when he was 14-years-old.
A typical happy-go-lucky kid till then, Murugesan's life changed drastically when he lost his hearing. “I was dumbfounded. I dropped out of school and spent a couple of years without knowing what to do,” he says.
That's when his ‘guru' Ramamurthy spotted him. “He took me to Kottaimedu and got me admitted in Arts Home, a drawing school run by drawing master Amos Paul.” The youngster found his calling. For three years, he studied the nuances of drawing. “I learned lower full hand and higher full hand techniques there,” says Murugesan.
“I also wanted to complete a technical teacher training course to take up teaching as a profession,” he says. But again, his disability came in the way. “A lot of my fellow schoolmates settled down with teaching jobs,” he says. It was in his 20s that Murugesan got his first break.
He joined VSK & Sons, an advertisement company as a commercial artist for a salary of Rs. 60 per month.
“The company worked with Tamil dailies such as Maalaimalar and Maalaimurasu. Back then, I would do artwork by hand for their special supplements. I've also done general and political cartoons in Namadhu India,” he says. To support his family, Murugesan worked two jobs. He was also an inscriber in temples in and around the city in the evenings.
The painter of signs
“I would first inscribe the words – be it Siva Puranam or any other sacred verse on stone. The sculptor would then work on them.” Murugesan's handiwork can be seen in several temples in the city, including Sulur Kumarakottam and the Perur Patteeswarar Temple. He also did signboard painting on and off.
After 17 years with VSK & Sons, Murugesan joined Art KG, another advertisement company that designed instruction manuals, leaflets, etc. “Back then, photography was an expensive affair. So, Murugesan would draw wash-drawings of mechanical components. They were on par with photographs, better even,” says K.V.Kailash, the company's proprietor. “Manuals with his diagrams reached as far as Germany.” Kailash also says that Murugesan has often been exploited. “There are lots of instances of his drawings being bought for a meagre amount and sold tenfold,” he adds.
Computers gradually took over in the early 90s, leaving very little work for artists like Murugesan. Business became rather dull after 1993, and Art KG took to manufacturing cartons instead. Murugesan walked into publishing houses asking for work. “But, it was only in 2008 that I got the opportunity,” he says.
Murugesan has illustrated an abridged version of Ponniyin Selvan written for children by R.Karpagam and brought out by Vijaya Pathipagam. It's his magnum opus and he holds it close to his heart. So, how did it feel to see his illustrations in print after many years? Murugesan slips in to a moment of reverie. “The feeling is indescribable.”
Apart from Karpagam's Polladha bommai Pinky, Murugesan has also illustrated Nizhal kaattum nijangal, a book of Thirukkural stories by Malar Kodi Rajendran, and a Tamil version of Shakespeare's stories by N.Veerannan. The artist goes the extra mile for every illustration – it's only after reading the manuscript does he start drawing. He also decides the positioning of the illustrations. Murugesan's line drawings of the majestic Vandhiya Dhevan and the elegant Kundhavai are so lifelike.
“Father is an avid reader,” say Sumathi and Padmavathi, Murugesan's daughters. “His world is made up of books, charts, pencils and such paraphernalia.” Pointing to an old iron trunk in a corner, Sumathi says, “That's where he keeps all his stuff. He wouldn't let us anywhere close to it,” she smiles.
As work orders for illustrations are irregular, Murugesan bundles cardboard cartons at Art KG. But, he says, “There's nothing like drawing to keep my engines running. I just want my hands to keep drawing till the end.”