Unnoticed like his record-breaking easel painting artist Marthandam Rajasekharan, who has won several awards, is content to hide in the shade

The beard, the khadi ‘jubba' and the unkempt look…yes, he's an artist. Rajasekharan Parameswaran a.k.a. Marthandam Rajasekharan. Does that name ring a bell? Hard as you might listen, there are no chimes coming. Right?

Not surprising, as this quiet, composed man has no PR machinery, and his accomplishments got momentary applause, almost a whimper, in the media. He won the award for the best art director for his work in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's ‘Nalupennungal' in 2007. He holds the Guinness World Record for the largest easel painting. The easel is 56.5 ft tall and 31 ft wide and it holds the painting of EMS (50 ft width and 25 ft height) and was measured on April 19, 2008. Till then, a German held the record, and it was only 22 ft high.

Rajasekharan's work showed a smiling EMS with ‘party text' in the background. (The easel cost Rs. 3 lakh, which was sponsored by Neyyatinkara Alex, an artist) If you go along the Nagercoil-Thiruvananthapuram National Highway (NH47), you will see the easel at Kottamom, near Neyyattinkara. Only the easel! But what you see on the easel is not his painting. It hides under a huge flex of an advertisement on which it also says, it is the biggest easel ever, which is true. And to think that he painted this to bring attention to the world about this dying art of manual hoardings painting!.

But Rajasekharan is down-to-earth and does not feel slighted that an easel painting that won a Guinness world record has been so treated, virtually swept under an ad. “Where is the space to keep such a big painting? The Tourism Department or the Government did nothing to display it anywhere. It cost Rs. 3 lakh for the easel alone. It is a dead investment otherwise, for someone who helped me,” says the talented painter. But his never-say die spirit is alive and kicking. Last month he was all ready to beat his own record in Vietnam, painting a sleeping Buddha, but Government permission was not ready, so it had to be put off. This venture is envisaged as a 70 ft high one, he says.

Why this urge for records? The art of manual painting of hoardings is almost lost, with the influx of flex. Rajasekharan had done a lot of hand-painted hoardings earlier, as huge sizes did not scare him. His mathematical background stood him in good stead to form the right grids. He is sad that this is a disappearing art and he wanted to highlight this fact.

Several jobs

He has had a chequered career. “After working as a statistics compiler, I was a receptionist because I wanted to wear a tie,” he says, laughing. A medical representative's job too did not go down well with him. Neither did a teacher's role. That's when he turned to art. Untutored, he started with pencil sketching and graduated to oil painting. He was attracted to the realistic style. His works reflect his attention to detail. You wonder whether they are photographs or paintings. The portraits branch of art is what he does best. “I have done portraits of Abdul Kalam, Rajiv Gandhi, actors like Sreenivasan, Sathyan…filmmakers like P. N. Menon,” he says.

Right now, much of his bread and butter come from Australia in the form of commissioned art. He gets orders from Australia through a friend to do portraits. The Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Man himself) family portrait and others on his website (www.rajasekharan.in) are bringing in the offers.

Cinema is high on his agenda too. Watching Adoor Gopalakrishnan's ‘Mathilukal', art as cinema, beckoned him. In ‘Nizhalkuthu', he was able to get a place as assistant director of Adoor. For his very first project as art director, in ‘Naalu Pennungal', he won a State award. He has been doing the art direction of all of Adoor's projects after that, including ‘Oru Pennum Randaanum', the documentaries on Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair (‘Maestro's Memoirs') and on Mohiniyattam (‘Dance of the Enchantress').

Art direction should be handled deftly so that nobody realises it is a set, he says. “In fact, in ‘Naalu Pennungal', Nandita Das herself did not know that the well was actually a ‘set'. When she came to do the scene, in which she draws water from the well, she was shocked to find in it an assistant ready to pour water into the bucket from inside the ‘well'! The old style kitchens were also made.

Challenging

It's a challenging job. Getting old Travancore coins, the sword and a real old time photo of Goddess Kaali for the film was tough.”

Rajasekharan is self taught. He took to wearing khadi 15 years ago, when ‘he stopped drinking', as he puts it. He holds dear his association with artist Annachi Murugan, a specialist in cut-out strategy, who did the poster work of films like ‘Angadi'. Annachi is no more, but he still inspires Rajasekharan.

Awards

In a contest conducted by ‘Ananda Vikadan', he was one of the 75 artists selected from a flood of entries. In the final, the readers polled him to the first place. He drew poverty, of the stark kind, in realistic style, of two hungry, homeless kids, torn clothes and hopes. A portrait of Gandhiji won him the Bikhuram National Award, in 2010. The same year, he won the Artslant International online art competition for a painting on Fidel Castro.

New project

All set to work in the art direction department of K.R.Manoj's next movie, contentment is his biggest asset, living with wife Valsamma and two daughters, Anna and Neetu at Meenachel village in Vilavancode taluk, Kanyakumari district.