Small city spaces trouble Bhagyanath C. PREMA MANMADHANfinds his magnum opus an overflow of this angst in a melange of colours

The big built Bhagyanath C. is puny beside his magnum opus, almost finished. It is a 12x6 ft. painting in acrylic that encompasses a lot of what Bhagyanath the artist has to say about the world at large. This work will form part of his exhibition at Project 88, an art gallery in Mumbai at the end of the year. He says it in as many figures as are thoughts during the time he works. From picturesque Chirakkara, a village in Thalassery, the ex-teacher of St. Michael’s School, Kannur, has always been wary of the urban and urbanites.

“The small spaces in cities always troubled me, as my roots are rural. I feel that even the thoughts of city folks are caged. It’s stifling. And so many negative things are happening around me. So these thoughts reflect in my works,” says the artist.

What you see in his works is truly troubling. The city spaces and urban scenes that inhabit his recent canvases make you wonder if everything is black in a city. Steps lead to one floor. Again another flight of steps lead to another space. There are any number of stairways leading to spaces where there are tiny human forms doing mundane things. Look closely and you find they are sometimes doing things that should be done behind closed doors in a civilised nation. But the artist has the license to take a peek anywhere with his imagination and brush! The human forms and sometimes animals in that multi-storeyed wall-less world of shelters seem to be in misery. In more than one work, you find a noose also amidst the din. Sometimes the situations he paints are funny, in these hugely populated canvases. It’s like reading a storybook, watching this series of his paintings.

But then, Bhagyanath does not stick to series or subjects. One phase is denoted by one style rather than subjects, though serious subjects like the effects of Endosulfan bother him enough to put his thoughts on them to canvas.

Animals feature in many of his works. The animal in man would be a better explanation. The caged animals perhaps represent the status of man in a city, starved of space in flats as opposed to open spaces that people enjoy in the rural sylvan settings. “I read a lot and Basheer’s works have influenced me a lot. Man’s greed is something that I cannot come to terms with. I am not an artist who is market driven,” Bhagyanath says. But his works are selling as soon as his brush is off them. Recently one was sold at a Hong Kong show. He has participated in group shows in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and also at Kashi Art Gallery in Kochi.

The negative gets predominance over the positive in most of his works. Why? “Because I see so much of negative things around me, that’s why. Look at the newspapers. There is so much of murder, and perversities all over. I am distressed by that,” he explains.

Each of his work is therefore a monologue, an artistic account of the angst in him, or the response to a situation he sees around him.

Human figures with animals inside them depict the beast in man. During one phase, he has done works which are from the viewpoint of a child. His seven-year-old daughter was behind it all, he says. His working style is like this: He takes time to formulate an idea and then it all comes out in a rush and the colours flow, as also the forms. The whole process takes a lot of time for him. His subjects? “The world is my canvas,” he puts it simply.

Lines are important to him. Simple lines effectively convey the moods of his forms, human or animal. In one phase, single colours and outlines, of animals men, in sombre moods and surrealistic states, fill the canvases. In another phase, thorny vines and bright eyed animals, the names of which evade the viewer, cling to some of the very colourful maze of vines. Birds with open beaks seem caught in these thorns.

The colours stand out, more than the forms, in sharp contrast to his earlier single morose coloured works, where the forms speak loud, of the expressions he wishes to convey. The melange of colours in the huge canvases, in his latest works, links all his subjects and make a whole of the world he depicts.

To Bhagyanath, the exhibitions in smaller towns are more satisfying, even if the works do not sell. In Kannur, many people come to see the works and ask questions. They share their views and also enjoy them. “In Kozhikode also, my exhibition drew many viewers and views,” says the artist who consciously remains rooted in his village, despite his exposure to city life and city folks.