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A collage of images

IN A tall installation, Joseph M. Verghese makes a subtle statement of the plight of tea estate workers who have been put out of job in Wayanad district. This is also his hometown and even though he routinely interacts with the tribals there, he feels he still cannot grasp their essence. Their way of thinking, their responses, in fact their psyche is at variance from others. So how can a Delhiite for instance, far removed from their world in terms of distance and mentality, even essay to paint them and sell his works as tribal art?

In a painting titled `Tribal Women or Somebody's Daughter,' he makes a valiant attempt to identify with their sufferings, and give it some authenticity. A self taught artist, he toyed with expressionist and surrealistic forms before developing his own individuated style. Unlike most painters who work on an easel, Mr. Verghese lays his canvas on the floor and then squats to work. This has a tantalising effect because devoid of gravity, figures enter his frame from all sides; and the artist is challenged to tabulate them.

`Arbitrary Set of Forms' is one such work painted on recycled cardboard sheet that is reinforced with cloth and painted over with charcoal and dry pastels. In the humid climes of Wayanad this surface tends to disintegrate but this doesn't perturb him. Even his method of filling colour is unique as he is more likely to use sprays, combs and rollers rather than conventional brushes. He skilfully manipulates a diverse range of media. Bits of news items and advertorials are worked and reworked; their photocopies taken and wedged on the surface. They are then painted over and further interspersed with text. It is this integrating process that makes his paintings distinct.

`Drink a Peg of Crocodile Tears,' the title that lent itself to mark his show at Durbar Hall recently, was inspired by a news story and photograph of a female sacrifice, where the terror-laden eyes of the victim continued to haunt him. Mr. Verghese tests with line; their non linear movement results in the formation of four overlapping heads in `Concerns of Manassery.'

Elsewhere, arrows, diagrams and ovals colonise the canvas, which he says are his tests with symmetry and theories of particle collision. Meanwhile, funnels and bells are a constant in his collection of pictorial images. These are evident even on the series that he has done on paper plates.


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