Jayashree Jayapaul's passion for epic art has converted Hotel J.C. Residency into a virtual art gallery

As a child, Jayashree Jayapaul used to drive her teachers nuts by doodling all over her notebooks. Little did the Madurai girl then realize that all her strokes and sketches which she vigorously filled with colours actually fuelled her early paintings. Her teachers often pondered over them and she was their first choice to represent her school for any art competition.

Remembers Jayashree, “From the first contest when I was 10 years, I always returned with a prize. I loved shapes and forms and the wonder of colours. That must have been the beginning of my interest in art.” Today her canvases adorn the lobby of hotels and homes and Jayashree – or ‘Jay Jay', as she signs her paintings – is an artist to reckon with. She feels rewarded when friends and strangers after viewing her works remark how a piece was either disturbing or powerful, or the use of happy colours, the unique style and flow, the combination of themes and patterns was good.

Jayashree silently worked her craft for years, and she describes it as “understandable abstract”. Influenced by Van Gogh's and M.F. Hussain's works and Andrew Wyeth's books on art, she is passionate about epics and creating Christian art that reflects the life and teachings of God. In the initial years, she trained herself by copying the paintings of lesser-known artists. The softness of colours, the play of light and shade, and paintings of sages administering medicines in ancient India fascinated her. Early marriage stationed her in the small agricultural town of Periyakulam and she was confined to home. With her sons away at boarding school, she had time to read and paint. On her occasional travel to Palani hills in Kodaikanal, where her husband was constructing a hotel, she absorbed details of the scenery. Also, the religious books she read found subtle expression in her art.

Lucky break

A chance introduction to Sushila Williams, a professional artist from the Chitrakala Academy in Coimbatore, was a turning point in Jayashree's life. Asked to send a set of paintings for the academy's annual exhibition in 1978, Jayashree heard her works described as “exceptionally good” by her mentor and visitors and she also found a permanent platform to showcase her work. She gained recognition for Bible art and started exhibiting her works in Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai.

Though Jayashree always painted out of interest and not to sell, she also realized that there were not many takers for Christian art mostly based on the parables of Jesus. But she continued drawing and gifting her paintings to friends and relatives both within and outside India till one major assignment landed on her lap from the most unexpected quarter.

“Usually parents are after their kids to do well in life. But my younger son has been my greatest motivator. If he appreciates my work, he also is the biggest critic,” she beams, revealing how he suddenly asked her to do a large panel painting for their family's new hotel in Madurai.

“I had always used my brush on four by two feet canvas. But he wanted me to depict the story of Kannagi, Kovalan and Madhavi from the important Tamil epic ‘Silappatikaram' on 20 by 40 feet panel, for the corridor that connects the reception and the dining hall. “I never thought I was capable of delivering such a big painting. Since there was no space to keep such a big single canvas, I decided to do it as a piece-by-piece puzzle.”

Jayashree first made a sketch and cut it into random panels of different sizes. Then she matched these paper blocks to canvases of different sizes and, after completing the paintings, joined them as one would assemble a puzzle. Jayashree is now painting events from the entire Bible in a sequence for the four floors of the hotel. With all the corridors at her disposal, she is exhibiting the Old Testament on the first two floors and the New Testament on the top two floors.

Jayashree feels the visual impact on the viewer's mind is generally stronger and long-lasting. “I am able to express on the canvas how and what I feel for Christ, or depict Biblical heroes like David who never cease to captivate my senses. The ruminative or vibrant shades and nuances of tones speak for the emotive experiences in me. It is a strange completeness I feel each time I connect with my Creator in art. There is spiritual intimacy in this field which leaves you with inner peace whether you're drawing it or looking at it,” she says.

Don't miss Jayashree Jayapaul's murals when you are at Hotel J.C. Residency, Madurai.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to somabasu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)