Four artists from the city will showcase their works in different metros

“People don't know the context for serious evaluation of our work as they do with artists in other Indian metros. It is important therefore, to hold collective exhibitions of Chennai artists in established galleries, so that people know there is a Madras movement, a common ambience that has fostered our distinctly individual development,” says artist P. Gopinath.

‘The Metaphor and Beyond', a national exhibition of four Chennai artists presented by Sanjay Tulsyan, opening in Galerie 88, Kolkata ( March 21-April 10), and slated to travel to Mumbai and Delhi, showcases ten works by four Chennai veterans — artists C. Douglas, P. Gopinath, K. Muralidharan and sculptor S. Nandagopal. “Ten years after the group show ‘Madras Metaphor', we are going to Kolkata with ‘The Metaphor and Beyond'. We know that we will find receptive viewership in a city that values tradition, and empathises with the metaphysical dimension in art,” says Nandagopal.

All four are alumni of the College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, while three belong to the Cholamandal Artists' Village. Their distinctly individual stylistics are based on narrative and figurative elements. Even Gopinath's preoccupation with abstractions has not eliminated the figure from his work. Drawing is a major strength in all. The line remains firm, lucid, as much a contemplative process as an artistic technique.

Each one of them says that they arrive at every element in their work by chance, not premeditation. They are also certain that the real work lies more in the process than in the result. “I rely on intuition,” says Gopinath. “I don't like a static finality in my work, a certain feel of the unfinished can be good sometimes,” Douglas smiles. “I don't start with a sketch or plan. I start with a colour and find a form in it,” Muralidharan explains. Nandagopal finds it most exciting to assemble parts into a whole, instead of making his sculpture from a completed drawing. “No preconception, but an endless play with possibilities like a computer geek!” he laughs.

A salty breeze blows through their recent works chosen for the group show. Douglas' works on wood and paper breathe connotations elusive and allusive. A lyrical poignancy is never absent from his pictorial expression. Gopinath has choreographed a drama of abstractions punctuated with figures, in striking, easy-to-bond-with colours, also offering scope for contemplation.

Muralidharan's recent work centre-stages the single image of an urban woman, in a surreal, panoramic landscape, ablaze with colours, teeming with visuals mythical and fantastic. Paradoxically, in Nandagopal's frontal sculptures, minimalism intersects with the extravagant. Rooted in the concrete terrestrial, his smaller, silver-plated figures soar into spatial-spiritual dimensions.

But do these Chennai artists have any special identity of their own that sets them apart? Anything that binds them despite their subjective search? Some would say that it is the evident impact of mathematics and Carnatic music on their vision and expression. This connection empowers them as contemporary artists striving for aesthetic balance and spiritual transcendence.

Nandagopal identifies drawing as the major strength in the Chennai artist. “The line is our basic technique and spatial link. The central design will always be connected to the four corners of the canvas.” Gopinath insists, “I don't want to do signature paintings. What I see, how I grow, must be reflected in my work.”

Douglas shrugs, “Boundaries between tradition and modernity, East and West, are getting blurred in the global village. And yet, they continue to pose problems for contemporary creativity, throwing up new identities for us to grapple with.” The last word comes from Muralidharan: “Chaos! I want to live chaotically, but give form to chaos. I've lived in Kolkata you know! The panting crowd inspires me.”