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Varied themes and idioms

The works of 18 members of the Pallavaa Artists' Village are on show at Vinyasa

Flair for folk themes: A work by P. Lakshmanan

EIGHTEEN ARTISTS who are members of Pallavaa Artists Village, Padappai, founded in 1991, and the Tamil Nadu Arts and Crafts Improvement Association (1975), are holding an exhibition at Vinyasa Art Gallery. The concept of an artists' village had its nebulous beginnings in the Barbizon School of painters in Paris in the first half of the 19th Century. Barbizon was a small village in the forest of Fontainbleau near Paris where artists Jean Camille Corot, Francois Millet and others drew inspiration from Nature and created landscapes in natural light and with rural folks as their subject. Soon artists were attracted to settle here, away from the bustle of urban life, creating artist communities. This notion caught on, marking an international phenomenon that continued into the early 20th Century, consequent to the mass movement of painters from urban centres migrating to the countryside, leading eventually to the formation of artist communities in rural locations throughout Europe.

At home, on our threshold, we have an outstanding example of the Cholamandal Artists Village created by the dynamic visionary K.C.S. Paniker in 1966. Nevertheless it became a pioneer idea for collective artist activity in India and many such artists villages have surfaced in and around the periphery of Chennai within the past one-and-a-half decades. The Pallavaa Artists Village at Padappai is a case in point, established with life membership of 30 artists. The main aims of the village, according to its president B. R. Annapillai, are to provide studio workspace, organise work-shops, offer library facilities to visiting artists and a gallery to showcase their works. Of the artists exhibiting their works, many are graduates of the Government College of Fine Arts, while others are self-taught. The exhibits are largely mediocre, indicating the lack of exposure and experience for many of them. The eighteen artists are B. R. Annapillai, P. Augustine, P. Anbazhagan, M. Balasubramanian, S. Govindarajan, K. Jayachander, P. Jayakkani, P. Lakshmanan, G. Manohar Raja, J. Nelsonkennadi, G. Palanivel, M. Premkumar, M. Raja, V. Santhanam, R. Sigamani, S. Shanthi, A. Viswam and Village Mookkaiah.

Diverse mediums

The medium of expression varies from drawing, oils, mixed media, mobile to metal relief work. The works which attract attention on entering the gallery are a large turmeric yellow cloth shopping bag that hangs, creating a mobile in the tradition of Alexander Caldder, a ubiquity among middle class shoppers, and a painted banana leaf platter of idlis with a variety of chutneys on it. This representation by Jayachander of mass culture evokes an inherent sense of tradition. Santhanam's canvases of Ganesha and Kamadhenu are assiduously executed with intricate textures and a multiplicity of colours.

Premkumar offers cubist fragmentation and faceting of sacred and political icons such as Ganesha and Gandhiji with crisp and precise lines and colours.

Quasi abstractions

Jayakkani's quasi abstractions are noteworthy for its technique and juxtaposition of geometric and organic forms that could be read as fish and nets. Balasubramanian's depiction of domestic interiors has an ideological crux that touches upon either Bhupen Khakkar or Sudhir Patwardhan's ironical or socialist approach to city life. Palanivel's tryptich of three canvases is a retro on classical mural tradition of Ajanta, critiquing the gradual disappearance of this art through vandalism.

The pictorial vocabulary is interestingly employed with the lit lantern in all three canvases lighting up the space — the first representing only the lamp, the second revealing the famous painting Padmapani, and the third marking an obliteration of the same subject with harsh, choppy brush strokes and dissonant colours. Sigamani's metal relief in mixed media is intricate and decoratively textured. Raja's portrait heads have a heroic character, with playful lines marking the facial features and representation of folk pictographs in the background as parrots, lamps, etc.

The seniormost artists within the group are B. R. Annapillai and P. Lakshmanan. The former has a representation of elephants in three canvases with each marking the process of reduction to semi abstraction, the composition held together by a well-contoured white outline.

The latter's works are stiff and conventional with a monotonous theme of folk dancers and singers in bright bazaar colours.

The show is on at Vinyasa Art Gallery till February 20.


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