Remembering K.C.S. Paniker as an artist and an institution builder

K.C.S. Paniker was not only an artist par excellence but an institution builder as well, said West Bengal Governor M.K. Narayanan of the legendary figure in the art world and arguably the most distinguished alumnus of the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai.

He was speaking after the formal inauguration of the renovated KCS Paniker Gallery on the Museum premises on Monday.

The function also marked the end of the observance of birth centenary fete of the artist. The paintings are arranged in a manner that traces Paniker’s artistic endeavours from landscape painting at first, through stages that focused on the depiction of human forms and folk art before reaching a phase when his paintings increasingly bore an abstract quality.

The Governor’s address followed the development of the ‘legend’, right from when he was a ‘child prodigy’. “His genius was evident well before his teens,” said Mr. Narayanan, who lauded him and his predecessor at the Chennai College of Fine Arts, Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury, for being instrumental in transforming the artistic landscape of south India.

One of the oldest colleges in the country for art, the Government School of Arts and Crafts, as it was formerly known, was set up by the British with the prime focus on teaching students to recreate decorative art.

Artist Paniker became the principal of the institute in 1957 and ensured that aspiring artists were given plenty of attention to hone their skills and granted them a degree of independence.

The Governor recalled his visits to the art school at Santiniketan.

“I asked the artists here what lies in the genius of KCS and the reason for the legacy. The unanimous opinion was that even today Paniker is perceived as one of the best abstract and metaphysical painters that India has ever produced,” he said.

In addition, the artist also set up the Cholamandalam Artists’ Village, hailed as the country’s ‘largest self-supporting art colony’, for it encompasses studios, cottages, well-lit galleries and an open-air theatre.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy presided over the function. He said the plea to renovate the gallery was made by Minister for Museums and Zoos P.K. Jayalakshmi. Paniker’s daughter, Sumithra Menon, was also present. She spoke about her father’s artistic sensibility from the turmoil he faced by the cultural interruption posed by the colonial rule to his attraction to the lines of the Malayalam script.

Film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan and artists, including Kanayi Kunjiraman, Katoor Narayana Pillai, K.M. Vasudevan Namboodiri, Paris Vishwanathan and Akittom Narayanan, were present.

At the gallery, 65 works of Panicker were on display, including the famed ‘Lazarus’, ‘Melon Eaters’, ‘Fruit Seller’ and ‘Dog’. Principal Secretary of the Department of Culture Sajan Peter said the new air-conditioned and UV-free LED lighting fittings would ensure maintenance of artwork in the gallery.