The 30 recent works of senior artist M. Senathipathi that are on display at DakshinaChitra prove that, even in the seventh decade of his life, the artist is assiduously producing work that is consistent with his personal style — one that is suited to his dual interest in the traditional and the modern. While his works are modern in a formalist sense, they are often thematically dependent on Indian mythology and oriented in Hindu epics. In these aspects his works keep him bound to his roots in the modernism of the Madras Art Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It is clear that he still holds on to the maxim of stalwart artist and teacher K.C.S. Paniker who exhorted Indian artists to stay true to their cultural origins. Senathipathi has never strayed far from his teacher's dictum, his canvases staying rooted in the indigenous visual idiom.
He is an alumnus of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai and it was under Paniker's tutelage that Senathipathi's artistic output became suffused in the Indian craft tradition which was recognised as being an important part of one's artistic heritage. It is this same craft tradition that he falls back upon in his artistic expression, for his paintings are undeniably drawings that rely heavily on craft-inspired linear decoration. While his exploration of colour is dynamic, it seems to play little role in the composition serving mainly to foreground the drawing. His characteristic black and white pen and ink wash drawings are embedded in every painting for it is from those parent works that he derives the rest of his oeuvre. While none of these black and white drawings on handmade paper are presented in his collection of recent works, a viewer who is conversant with Senathipathi's works can immediately visualise their provenance. True to his characteristic painted forms, his works in other media such as metal also mimic the same expressive style.
In his canvases the star and the wheel are frequently represented as design elements on the figurative forms. These representations are done in stark black lines that contrast against the pulsating colours that he builds up in layers. The intricacy achieved through the criss-cross patterning is evocative of astrological markings, while the linearity is an unmistakable element of the Madras Art Movement. With its intense patterning and compressed space, the two-dimensionality of the representation is obligatory as the spatial construction becomes abbreviated and compacted.
Senathipathi's mythology-inspired figurative representation can be seen in the portrayals of Ravana and Jatayu, Ganesha, Krishna, Draupadi, Arjuna, Hanuman and Ardhanariswara. His canvases also explore emotions and abstract concepts as seen in his works titled Lovers, Dream, Affection and Appearance, among others. It is evident that whatever be the theme of his art, it is human feeling and emotion that comes to the surface. Even in the mythological representations it is the emotional aspect that takes centre stage — and what seems to be bereft of mythological character in name still assumes the same in representation, as seen in ‘Dream' which is a lyrical portrayal of myriad Krishnas playing flutes in the dream of a young Radha.
Among the earliest residents of the pioneering experiment that was Cholamandal Artist's Village Senathipathi has played an important role in defining the Artist Handicraft Association that operates from the commune. He still lives and works at Cholamandal staying true to his earliest inspirations and influences.
As part of the Art Chennai initiative, the show is on till March 31 at DakshinaChitra art gallery, Muttukadu (Tuesday holiday).