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Harmony of hues

Painting is a process of pictorial thought, says Pravin whose works are on display at the Alliance Francaise

FRENCH CLASSES at the Alliance Francaise as a college student in the 1980s. That's where it all began. An opportunity to dabble in theatre came up when the course director auditioned him for a role in a French play. Today, Pravin and "Magic Lantern", the group he directs, are recognised for having made a significant contribution to the contemporary theatre movement in the country.

But, drama for Pravin has not limited itself to the stage. The surge of thoughts, feelings and emotions that floods the recesses of his inner self finds expression through a dramatic use of colours on canvas. This facet of Pravin, hitherto hidden from public gaze, was unveiled in his first solo exhibition of paintings that opened on September 15 at the Alliance Francaise.

Pravin has not undergone formal training in theatre or art. It is the French connection that drew him into a rich cultural milieu, where he could interact with theatre personalities and artists. Pravin's keen eye for observation and detail, prerequisites for both theatre and painting, was trained by popular French theatre personality Ariane Mnouchkine, who chanced to visit Chennai in the Eighties. Around the same time, Pravin came face-to-face with the works of Bhagwan Chavan, considered one of the finest abstractionist painters in the country. Bhagwan had been invited to hold an exhibition at the Alliance Francaise.

Meeting Bhagwan was a turning point in Pravin's life. The artist stayed on in Chennai for a stint at the Lalit Kala Akademi. While Pravin taught him French, the painter initiated his young French tutor into the nuances of brush on canvas. The friendship with Bhagwan soon extended to other well-known artists who would drop in and out of Bhagwan's studio.

Pravin recalls that even in school level art classes, he preferred oil pastels to watercolours. "Painting is a process of pictorial thought, something that cannot be verbalised. Its "vocabulary" comprises colour, texture, mass, volume and light, sans words. It is the only medium in which you can connect disparate ideas."

About his predilection for abstraction, he says, "My feelings are best expressed through this form. I paint on impulse and with a sense of immediacy, trying to achieve a harmony of visual elements rather than perfection. I'm comfortable with palette knife, brush, oils or acrylics."

Jean-Pascal Elbaz, director, Alliance Francaise, Chennai, commenting on Pravin's work... "I happened to see his paintings when I visited his home one day. I have experience handling galleries and art shows abroad and am convinced that here is an artist who can hardly be considered an amateur."

The exhibition, which is on till September 25, showcases the artist's work over a period of 16 years. Though the techniques and pre-occupations have changed what one sees is a vivid play of form and colour and the superimposition of layers of paint, perhaps to achieve an overall balance.

Each canvas is a complex mosaic of ideas and images — strange shapes, swirls and stylised funnels, trees, flowers, hooded figures — all of which compel attention. The powerful brush strokes sweep away the viewer to a world of vibrant colour, where there is a sense of timelessness and infinite space for contemplation.


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