OFFBEAT - Self-taught artist B. Seran brings to life driftwood sculptures with a touch of imagination

Draw a Bezier curve, an elliptical arc or just a wild squiggle: B. Seran will turn it into the image of an easily recognisable object. He studies the zigzag line that he is challenged with and beautifully blends it into a sketch of a Kerala temple elephant laden with ornaments. It is this remarkable power of imagination which enables this 46-year-old, self-taught pen-and-ink artist to notice beautiful images where people only see useless wood!

Seran pursues the hobby of collecting dead and uprooted roots and branches of trees that resemble images of animals, birds and humans. He has accumulated over 50 driftwood sculptures (as these naturally formed pieces of art are called), which include snakes, mongooses, a headless woman, a man and a woman dancing together, adult and juvenile birds of prey, a duck, seals, a bear, a fish, a resting camel, a head of a giraffe, the face of an elephant and a monkey swinging from a tree.

He has been hunting for such precious discards of Nature for over 25 years. However, most of them came in last ten years. “That was around the time I met Annapillai, founder-secretary of Pallava Artists' Village in Paddappai. He liked some of my pieces he saw at a contest and got in touch with me. Until he told me, I did not know worthless wood with naturally-formed images were called driftwood sculptures and that it was an attractive form of art in the West.” recalls Seran.

Annapillai taught Seran the widely accepted rules of driftwood sculpture: Nothing can be sculpted, but unnecessary parts can be lopped off; painting and powdering are not allowed, but varnishing is; the wood can be singed by exposing it to fire to create designs, such as the spots on a snake; mild chafing is permitted.

Annapillai became a guide and at his behest Seran arranged for an exhibition at the artists' village. Enthusiastic response from the media and students was a shot in the arm. “I would bring home these mud-caked, useless roots under cover of darkness. I was worried about what my neighbours would think of me,” remembers Seran, who is assistant superintendent at Chennai Port Trust. “After television channels carried my story, congratulations poured in from neighbours, friends and colleagues; and I began to bring home these unseemly pieces of wood in broad daylight.”

Seran hopes driftwood sculpture will gain importance in India. He lauds a singular initiative in Kerala to promote this art form. A museum — Bay Island Driftwood Museum — has been built in Kumarakom to showcase the driftwood sculptures of Raji Punnoose.