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Canvas from Cholamandal

Works of art by the artists of Cholamandal are mounted at Lakshana Art Gallery till August 5.

MAESTRO'S ART: K.C.S Paniker's work.

THE CHOLAMANDAL show on at the Lakshana Art Gallery brings to memory the struggle and ultimately the triumph of the contemporary artists based in the Madras region. Established in 1965 by the visionary artist, K.C.S. Paniker, the then principal of the Government College of Art and Crafts, Madras, Cholamandal created strong impressions about its environment, concept and definitely the group of artists who practise and dwell in this village. It is not merely significant with regard to the evolution of contemporary art in this region but generally it is a popular tourist destination.

What isimportant to discuss is the kind of art practised in the ambience of Cholamandal. And to study this, one has to talk about the evolution of the village. The story of Cholamandal's genesis goes back to the time when the students of K.C.S. Paniker were working in the corridors of the state Lalit Kala Akademi without any hope of the future. The guru then realised the necessity to sustain not just their engagement with art but also to help them survive and support their families. Therefore, to champion the cause of fine art and the basics of life itself, he strongly felt the need to turn towards the crafts. For, handicrafts at that time enjoyed a good market which the artists could easily adopt and find a means to survive.

The first batik exhibition, organised by Paniker with the participation of the staff and students of the Government College of Art and Crafts, Madras was one direction that almost gave birth to a movement. The show was a sell out and this made them realise the immense possibilities of exploring the handicrafts. Eventually a society was formed and the work to acquire land and distribution began in 1963. The Cholamandal, if seen generally, is a venue which accommodates the fine arts and handicrafts. But if viewed critically, one realises how much the crafts have influenced the contemporary art of this region.

GOOD CONCEPTION: Douglas balances idea and technique.

In fact, an absolute decorative idiom marks the sensibilities of the artists living in this region. While the purists take every occasion to bracket the artists of Cholamandal, they were and are a few artists who were never affected by the decorative dialect. While K.C.S. Panikar defined the art of this region as "Indian in sprit and worldwide contemporary", the mythical metaphor is unmistakable in the works of the majority of the artists. In fact, the display at Lakshana, proves the point.

For instance, Senathipathi, Selvaraj, Venkatapathi, Jayakar, Gopal and Haridasan lucidly lurk in the methodology of the elaborate decorative. With a distinct accent on ornamentation and design, the regional factor is endorsed in their works. At the same time Gopinath, Douglas and Jayapala Panickar display a shift of content. Gopinath's idiom portray process, where line and colour engage in a matrix to give birth to forms: Forms, abstract and registered, integrate to create a resolution that forms a chain in one painting and the next. Douglas, similarly, is voyaging from one act to the other, but very subtly. His three paintings titled Seasons appear like a slow motion. Or may be a storyboard narrating a slow-moving drama which has a dynamism as good as nature. Conceptually brilliant, the artist balances his idea and technique evenly.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT: Vishwanathan is a celebrated abstractionist

Jayapala Panicker also works upon a preoccupation. The "Scare Crow" paintings are elaborate but definitely artistic in content. And like the two above (Gopinath and Douglas) the element of design and decoration is completely negated. He achieves a transparency which delights the soul of the viewer. The mention of transparency leads us to one more legend in the group. Viswanathan, the celebrated abstractionist who now resides in Paris, offered his well-known colour fields in oil on canvas. Once again the transparency he is known for sets him apart as one of India's illustrious artist who have ascended the spiritual by making painting his religion. Another artist who stays off the Cholamandala categorisation is Akkitham Narayanan. Yet another abstractionist, he works upon grids of geometry.

S.G. Vasudev stands out prominently with his theatrical content of human forms and trees. The disappointing factor of this show was the absence of K.C.S. Paniker and Reddappa Naidu. Sculptors such as Nandagopal, Paramashivam, Nandhan and Anila Jacob added to the list of absentees. The Cholamandal show is on at Lakshana Art Gallery, Shanti Nagar, Masab Tank, until August 5, 2003, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.


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