Yoosuf Chitralaya’s works celebrate small details

Yoosuf Chitralaya’s women hardly smile. “The only women who smile in my paintings are tribal women,” says the artist who recently showed his works in Kozhikode. The women look out of fluorescent green and deep yellow frames, but the tinge of gloom is hard to miss. “When I paint women, they usually tend to have a sense of sadness,” he says.

Yoosuf’s paintings are straightforward and simple. His portraits, landscapes and reproductions take on a realistic tone. His art is not about layers, but of life’s vignettes shorn off complexities. His prowess rests on the details, down to the metal work on the tribal woman’s neckpiece. He attributes the fascination with the minute to his ancestry and also to his previous job. “I come from a family of watch repairers,” he says. “ My father would manually set right those tiny wheels in the watches that people brought to him for repair.” Yoosuf’s occupation as an engraving block maker too had him dwelling on painstaking details. At his venture, Chitralaya in Kottakkal, he made block designs for book jackets in the 1970s and then moved on to advertisement layout in publications in the 1980s.

New profession

When the digital age wiped away his career, Yoosuf turned to painting full-time. Today’s youngsters cannot fathom what his previous job was like, says the artist. “Generating logos and images on the computer is easy, but for me it was about paying attention to minute facets,” he says.

Now Chitralaya is his studio where he paints and displays his work. Always a hobby, painting grew into his profession without fuss. “I feel awkward if a day passes without me painting something.” Yoosuf’s job doesn’t end with the painting. The product is wholesome only when he puts the painting into an artistic frame.

As an artist who has never studied art formally, each painting becomes a revelation for Yoosuf. His reference texts are the works of masters, especially Leonardo Da Vinci. He has attempted classics like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. “It is the minute details in these works that fascinate me. I give the painting my signature by bringing in certain alterations,” he says.

The oil and acrylic paintings that were displayed at the exhibition also reveal Yoosuf’s fascination with Biblical themes. Noah’s Arc, Christ walking on water and Christ after crucifixion are recreated in colours by the painter. “I have always been drawn to Biblical images,” he says. Most of the others including landscapes and portraits of women are recreated from memory; a few, he says, reproduced from the images he saw. He also brings out a snippet from Kozhikode of yore, rummaging memory. A painting depicts an ongoing music session. A man with a pencil-thin moustache is playing the harmonium as listeners, all men, scatter around. A bottle of liquor and a few stray pouches of beedi are among the properties in the room. “Music director M.S. Baburaj was my neighbour and I have seen many sessions like these,” says Yoosuf.