18 artists come together for a show that focusses on art's utility side

Art on your ashtrays, lampshades, tablemats or bookends? That's the idea behind Forum Art Gallery's ongoing ‘Functional Art' exhibition. Real art you can use, by well-known artists in the city, at relatively affordable prices.

“We invited mainstream artists to do functional art pieces for us — some had already done it before, for others it was the first time they were doing something of this sort,” says Shalini Biswajit of Forum.

There were two simple guidelines for the contributions — one, they must be durable (“These are not art installations”) and two, they must retain the distinctive feel of the artist's work (“The artist's identity shouldn't be lost — people should be able to see it and recognise it as his or her work”).

Intriguing collection

The result is a small but intriguing collection of artworks contributed by 18 artists. They range from the truly creative and gorgeous to the slightly strange and out-there, but each one makes an unmistakable artistic statement.

Take A.V. Ilango's rough-hewn granite ashtray or bowl (depending on whether you like to light up or not) with the figure of a bull etched into its core. The styling, the way the bull's movement and energy are captured with a few sweeping lines — it's vintage Ilango. Or take Benitha Perciyal's dreamy half-moon wall lamp crafted out of semi-circles of shell and acrylic. The colour, the textures and the materials used are unmistakably Benitha.

Dimpy Menon's distinctive bronze figurines recline against blocks of stone that become a one-of-a-kind pair of bookends. Laxman Aelay's typical drawings of Telegana faces on a ceiling-hung, circular yarn lamp make for a striking black-and-white style statement. Shalini herself converts a stainless steel sculpture of a cow into a sleek towel rack.

Thejo Menon, Asma Menon and Lakshmi Srinath get creative with their paintings. Thejo converts her dry pastels into a series of pretty tablemats (laminated prints and originals are available, depending on your budget) and coasters. Lakshmi turns her distinctive paintings on canvas and wood into a super-modern foldable table. And Asma converts her painting on wood, with its distinctive splashes of bright colour, into a mirror.

Some, such as B. O. Sailesh go for the funky and slightly bizarre, with his papier mache candle holder created out of an asymmetrical tower of human figures in bright, playful colours. Others, such as siblings S. Hemalatha, S. Saravanan and M.S. Geeta go for the more traditional, with a series of earthy copper bowls, trays and chunky pendants with folk-art etchings.

All this for a fraction of the cost you'd normally pay for such artists' works, says Shalini: “The idea is that people can own a piece of art at a modest price.”

The exhibition is also a trial run of sorts, an attempt to judge the response to functional art in the city. “We see it paving the way to bigger things in the future, such as a gallery store,” she says. “It could also be a stepping stone for artists wanting to try a hand at product design.”

The exhibition is on until April 24.