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Highway to art

The exhibition at the Cholamandal Artists Village featuring 34 popular names as part of the Chennai Fest is both an aesthetic experience and a tourist attraction

"THE PRIDE of Chennai the ECR (East Coast Road) is a scenic highway that takes you along the coast. Besides breathtaking glimpses of the sea and sublime travelling experience, the ECR has a lot more to offer". This introductory statement is made in the brochure brought out by the Confederation of Indian Industry announcing the Chennai Fest. Among a "lot more to offer" on the 50 mile `funtastic highway' is the exhibition of painting, sculpture and prints at the Cholamandal Artists Village forming one of the many strategic spots for the tourists to take a cultural break.

The concept of an artists' community living together originated in the 19th Century and was an internationally significant phenomenon of artistic practice up to the early 20th Century particularly in Europe. Artists' colonies and villages later transformed themselves into popular tourist attractions since tourism has come to shape the 20th Century in far reaching ways. The Cholamandal Artists Village has changed from being merely an artists' commune to provide a hybrid form of heritage tourism particularly popular with the educated middle classes of today.

The growing commercialism on the ECR has nevertheless been rewarding for the Cholamandal artists. M. Senathipathi, president of the village says, "During this fest, started in 2002, though the sales are good, what is more important for us is the visitors turning up in large numbers everyday. And as artists that is an encouraging response".

The exhibition mounted by the village association has 34 artists participating. The veterans among these are Senathipathi, K.V. Haridasan, P. Gopinath, C. Douglas, Anila Jacob, K.S. Gopal, S. Nandagopal, P.S. Nandhan, S. Paramasivam, K.R. Harie, S.P. Jayakar, late K. Jayapal Panicker, S. Kanniappan, A. Selvaraj, D. Venkathapathi and S.G. Vasudev.

Among these established artists, Jayapal Panicker's works struck a different note. He has seemingly moved away from his hard-edged abstract paintings with strong tantric affiliations to figurative. The series on `Scarecrow' appears layered and complex in its visual repertoire.

Anila Jacob's metal sculptures continue to encapsulate the craft of art and have become over-embellished decorative statements that nevertheless are a lineage of the Madras Art Movement. Kannaipan's two-dimensional sculpture imitating a painted frame with black cut-out silhouettes of dancers is interesting. Rajasekaran Nair's `Disguising Critique with Dream House Black Granite' is a powerful piece with its contrasts of smooth/rough textures. His works, along with Nandhan's, create dynamic prose, emanating masculine vigour.

Among the younger members Maria Antony Raj, B.O. Sailesh, D. Raju and Jacob Jebraj display vitality and complexity as well simplicity and directness.

Sailesh's small format paintings `In My Hand', `Meditation' and `Solitude' speak a visual language of satire with interesting compositional layout.

Perhaps implicated in his artistic syntax is the glance towards the material rat race that screams of platitudes of life that as individuals we need to banish and cloak ourselves in peace and contemplation. Jacob Jebraj's `Dragonfly' is interesting for its textures created with acrylics on print paper. Maria Raj's mobile sculptures are interesting in form and composition.

The mounting of the exhibition within the gallery space displays lack of professionalism. Ironically, an artists' commune, exhibiting such a lethargy and apathy in the display of art works is unpardonable. Each artist's contribution has been insensitively displayed without taking cognisance of the fact that they should be grouped together for their total aesthetic impact and effect.

The exhibition is on till January 26 at Cholamandal Artists' Village, ECR, Injambakkam.


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