Rajkumar Sthabathy's works are extraordinary representations of the common man

There's one thing that greatly worries Auroville-based artist Rajkumar Sthabathy — the disappearance of the man-on-the-street and his way of life. This concern manifests in his watercolour-on-paper creations.

His exhibition, part of Kasthuri Sreenivasan Trust's Vivid Palette series, showcases 46 works, 13 of them devoted to the rickshaw puller. He's there, a tired, world-weary presence, sitting or resting on rickshaws that sport the colours of the rainbow and other popular imagery of the times (think film posters!).

This contrast is what struck Rajkumar as unique. “For a rickshaw puller, his vehicle is everything. He sits on it as if it were his chariot. But, the sorrow in his eyes and the general deprivation is hard to miss,” he says.

The focus then shifts to those who make a living on the street — the balloon and toy sellers; and those who frequent it — people with wizened visages, unsure gaits and expressions you can't put a finger to. Are they sad, happy, angry or plain indifferent?

Details matter

“These,” says Rajkumar, “are people I've observed during the course of my life in Pollachi”. That he's observed them at length shines through in every single work. The wrinkles, crinkle of the eyes, half a smile and the fold of the garment is so life-like, you almost reach out to touch them.

In the festival series, the artist uses his craft to preserve for posterity traditional festivals celebrated in the rural heartland, full of pomp, splendour and rustic charm. “They've become so few, and far between. At this rate, the future generations might not even know about these celebrations. I wanted to capture them before they disappeared,” says Rajkumar, who specialises in profiling people and events on watercolours, a medium normally used to portray landscapes.

He's a master with light and shade too — the proof lies in his ‘Veyil' series. The works displayed at the show provide a sneak peek into the Dutch area in Fort Kochi. Do notice the broken lamp that dangles from a post; the cycles carelessly leaning against the wall; and the goats bathed in sunlight walking through a narrow lane.

Among Rajkumar's favourite works is the one featuring a family of four on a TVS 50. Amid swirls of exhaust fumes, you see a sense of purpose in the parents' face. The younger child rests her cheek on her sister's arms, looking yearningly at something — an ode to small-town India.

The works, priced between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 70,000, are on display at the Kasthuri Sreenivasan Art Gallery, Avanashi Road. The show concludes on July 24. The gallery is open from 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. For details, call 0422-2574110.

Keywords: art exhibition