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Of mice and men

M.S. Murthy's series on Ganesha are easy on the eye.

ACTUALLY, FOR some reason, in India we call Ganesha's vahana a rat, rather than evoking its more endearing diminutive cousin, the mouse. And the man is artist M.S. Murthy, whose delightful works, exclusively on Ganesha, inaugurated Time and Space's new gallery space on September 5 - a most propitious choice for its inception. And also appropriately timed, before and during Ganesh Chathurthi, for the exhibition runs till September 20.

Though Ganesha is such an overworked subject - from hackneyed papier-mache idols to stylised harbingers on wedding invitations - this exhibition still manages to charm, with its playful and joyously free renderings of the spoiled child of Indian iconography. This Ganesha series is unashamedly decorative, but elevated with Murthy's verve.

This is not Murthy's first attempt at making his work affordable and accessible. A few years ago, Art for All endeavoured to counter the exorbitant prices contemporary art now demands, by publishing good reproductions at very affordable prices. Thin Line, a portfolio of 10 prints of Murthy's drawings, was part of their maiden venture.

Murthy is, quite rightly, not an apologist for his choice of this "popular" theme for his "affordable art". He considers art to be "a profession like any other", and avoids "the ego and society image that some artists project, as if they were a special breed".

He is rooted in Indian, particularly local, culture being born in Bangalore. He admits that his diploma at Kalamandira gave him only a limited exposure to art. His visual sources are therefore Karnataka and Indian folk motifs, particularly the ooru habbas he visited around the villages. Idols were made for the festivals, out of whatever materials came to hand. They had ritual and religious significance to those that saw them and were made only for the occasion, relegated or destroyed after that. Though the Ganeshas and Suryas he has been doing over the years do not have the same function or purpose, he feels that they can still appeal because they express his heritage, are visual references that are significant.

He therefore welcomes a wider audience and feels that viewers' reactions to his works are essential because it was viewer participation that endowed the folk art forms with significance.

His works make no statements; his art has to be taken as it is.

It is this unaffected simplicity and sincerity that gives his works such a strong appeal. Coupled, of course, with a wonderful sense of line, for he is a masterly draughtsman. His previous exhibitions, other than his murals, have been mostly of his line drawings and watercolours.

This exhibition combines both, and one can see the process of the drawings and forms suggesting yet others, as he works variations on the elephant form.

The rush of the brush is evident in his line but also in his marvellously evocative and telling splashes of colour.

He has also added collage, which lends variations in texture. The three-line drawings are very reminiscent of Babar the Elephant illustrations. I am not sure that those memorable and perennial children's books are the provenance of the drawings but, if they are, mercifully Murthy has not Disney-fied them.

I, for one, would much rather be presented with one of Murthy's Ganeshas rather than yet another sari on Ganesha Chathurthi!


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