Jeevan Lal’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures presents deities with iconography from this human world

Stepping into Nanappa Art Gallery for Jeevan Lal’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures, ‘Avatar’, is a jaw-dropping experience. It was a burst of sensory perceptions – visual actually, bright colours and so many stories. The exhibition is the artist’s interpretation of gods and their consorts from the Hindu pantheon, Buddha and Christ in their many avatars.

Siva-Parvathy on Nandi, Mahavishnu with Lakshmi (Ananthashayanam), Venugopal, Arjuna-Subhadra, Ganesha, Buddha, Jesus Christ with Joseph and Mary, Shiva and Shakti…then there are some dreams and fantasies. For those of us fed on a diet of slim, long-limbed images of gods and goddesses, these are closer to experience – rounded and intense.

Vivid blues and greens, intense reds and ochres become co-narrators along with the images. Compressing these massive episodes or images in canvases this small was no mean task, he says. “I had to carefully choose elements without missing the crucial aspects.”

The paintings have large heads with prominent, expressive eyes and their bodies taper downwards. But never once do any of these works appear disproportionate. “That is because I have studied anatomy very carefully. Going by the size of the head, I will need a much larger canvas. It cannot be done on a 20” by 20” canvas.”

This technique of tapering figures, he says, followed him from sculpting to painting. “I was sculpting and I did not have a table to work on so I hung a rope from a ceiling and used plaster of Paris to give shape to the work. As the work progressed the form tapered as I reached the ‘legs’ to such an extent that the legs became redundant.”

He says that in his mind his paintings are ‘huge’, but practical considerations do not permit such flights of fancy. A product of Cochin School of Arts, Jeevan learnt much through the years he spent in Delhi at Pavilion and Interiors.

While working as part of the team that made the India International Trade Fair pavilions, he got to paint large paintings, and was exposed to art and art forms from different parts of the country.

That exposure, probably subconsciously, shows in these works – Kathakali, the bull from Mohenjodaro, Madhubani paintings, even a flash of Jamini Roy.

Jeevan Lal’s works grace places such as BTH, Le Meridien, Ashir Bhavan, Malayalam Literacy Museum (Thunchan Parambu) and Valanjambalam Temple.

He sees his current preoccupation with the ‘avatars’ as a sign of age and ageing, “I visited many temples too and these trips inspired me”.

The works are of deities but the iconography is very much of this world. The eyes and especially their expression – half-shut and deeply meditative – add divinity to the works. The subject is religious, or rather has to do with various belief systems, without being religious in the narrow sense of the term.

There are two sculptures in mixed media that Jeevan Lal fashioned out of aluminium, stainless steel, fibre glass, cloth and paper.

An interesting nugget of information is that the frames too are made by the artist. “All it took was paper, glue, cloth and paint…I was done in less that Rs.1,800.” This seems to be an extension of his philosophy — small can be big.

The exhibition, on from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., concludes on December 10.