Art ‘4some from the 50ees’ brings together recent works of senior artists R. Varadarajan, P. Perumal, K. Srinivasan, and Henry Daniel

Their journey as artists began in the 1950s, when they were students of the Government College of Fine Arts. They studied under greats such as K.C.S. Paniker and Dhanapal, and some of them went on to become teachers there. Theirs has been a life devoted to art, though the journey hasn’t always been easy.

R. Varadarajan, P. Perumal, K. Srinivasan, and Henry Daniel, four senior — or should we say super-senior?— artists in the city, have come together for a truly special exhibition at the Gallery Sri Parvati. All the artists are in their late 70s or early 80s, with several decades of art behind them, yet this is no retrospective. Almost all of the 51 works are new, painted in the last few years.

Some of the styles are characteristic. Perumal’s spare rustic figuratives, for instance, are instantly recognisable. The artist, who taught at the College, is renowned for his works in deep, rich, earthy tones, capturing images of the tiny village near Srivilliputhur where he grew up. With deft, short, strong strokes, he conjures up a remarkable amount of energy. The paintings may be of joyous dancing or the aggression of jallikattu or the bent-backed exhaustion of the farm labourer. Whatever the theme, the imagery is consistently realand engaging.

Vardarajan, the gifted graphic artist has experimented with so many forms and styles in the course of his career that it’s hard to point out at one as essentially his. Of the four, Varadarajan’s story is the most fascinating, the tale of a talent almost forgotten, of a genius whose early successes have been shrouded in the mists of time. His work was described in the now-defunct Artrends journal as follows: “Beneath the weirdness of his imagery is the exquisite dream of the child”.

In the 50s and 60s, he exhibited across the country, and his pieces were displayed at the prestigious Paris Biennale in 1961. But then he faded into oblivion — almost. Because the artist, who also taught at the College for many years, was not forgotten by his students and by his close contemporaries in the art world. In fact, it was at the recent retrospective of Varadarajan’s works at Ashvita Art Gallery that the idea for this current exhibition was born.

“When I saw that exhibition, I thought, why not all of us get together?” says K. Srinivasan. “I knew Perumal and Daniel were still working regularly. I went to Varadarajan’s house — it was hard to find — and thrust some canvases on him. I asked him to start working, and he obliged.”

The works that have resulted are a set of beautiful abstract collages, in a range of brilliant colour. These oils collect the colours of the rainbow in tiny speckles and strokes, creating texture with small pieces of paper or print, all to glorious effect. But then you also have his mixed media works — darker, more turbulent pieces with his characteristic use of franticly scribbled script; older linocuts in intense themes; and brightly coloured, rustic dancing figures painted on glass, giving you idea of the artist’s versatility.

Srinivasan’s own story is one where a love of art has long battled with the pressing necessities of life. Thankfully, art won (“The day I retired from my job at the bank was the best day of my life,” he says. “I decided I will now live and die as an artist.”). He’s made up for lost time since retirement, holding shows of his signature abstracts regularly, abstracts composed of dots and triangles, inspired by the humble kolam . This recent collection reflects the on-going evolution of his works — the geometrical shapes have grown increasingly organic, but his characteristic use of soft, pastel “families of colour” remains unchanged. Each piece is a composition of different shades of the same colour — gorgeous greens, blue-violets, pinks, and beige-browns — with delicate texturing adding dimension and depth to the works.

Henry Daniel was a teacher for three long decades, not at the College, but at the Lawrence School, Lovedale. His lovely pastel landscapes are a relict of the time he spent in the Nilgiri Hills, but that’s just one of the many styles that the artist has experimented with in his career (even his signature varies from painting to painting). You have some of his early abstract figuratives in the horse-and-rider theme that he was well known for (“I liked horses and nudes, so I put them together,” he says with a smile); these are packed with strong colour and intense strokes and movement. Then you have his elegant recent works which play more with abstraction, softer colours and white space. His nudes still figure in his semi-abstract depictions of crowds, but other pieces are completely abstract, a template, perhaps, for his future work.

This exhibition, ‘4some from the 50ees’ is a must-see for students and lovers of art in the city. It ends on September 25, before travelling to Coimbatore.

DIVYA KUMAR

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