Art The need to introspect and pave the way for a healthy art scenario have brought together a few artists to form the Karuppu Art Collective

On a quiet residential street off Khader Nawaz Khan Road, one house stands apart. All its windows and doors lie open, and every room is almost entirely bare. Except, that is, for the large, half-completed canvases that lay propped against the walls, and the paints, brushes, and black and white sketches scattered around them on the floor.

An artists’ camp is in progress here, one unlike most others organised in the city. This one has no sponsor, no gallery or academy of art backing it, but has been put together by the participants themselves, a group of 11 artists, photographers and sculptors called the Karuppu Art Collective.

The artists vary in age and seniority, but what they all have in common is a sense of solidarity and a desire to bring about a change in Chennai’s art milieu. “We’re all serious artists, who’ve been working on our art over a long period in spite of it not always having a market,” says C.P. Krishnapriya, one of the artists.

“The truth is that in Chennai, what is largely being promoted and sold are decorative wall pieces. We don’t create wall pieces. And we haven’t deviated from that for the market’s sake.”

The members are all former students of the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, including former principal, G. Chandrasekaran, or ‘Chandru Sir’, as he’s known. A chat with him turns into a quick history lesson on the Chennai art scene as he talks about the 60s and 70s, a time when artists worked towards melding Western technique with an Indian ethos. “After that period, the emphasis shifted to depicting personal experiences in art, and over time artists have grown more and more scattered,” he says.

This Collective, in part, hopes to bring together these scattered voices. “Instead of painting in isolation, as artists often do, it’s better to come together, to exchange views and experiences, have discussions and arguments,” says Sharmila Mohandas, who used to run the Easel Art Gallery.

Take for example Michael Irudhayaraj and Chitty Babu D., who were classmates at the college in the 80s. They had gone their separate ways, but working together at this camp. “We’re trying to bring back the energy of our college days,” laughs Michael, a senior artist.

The soft-spoken Chitty Babu looks at his own canvases — bold, intense black and white figuratives — with something akin to amazement. “I have never painted like this before, never,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by coming here.”

The group’s immediate plans include an exhibition, and finding a common space for members to meet and talk regularly. “This is a strong, mature group, and I don’t see us drifting apart,” says Krishnapriya.

Its larger objectives include an on-going search for identity, and introspection into the true nature of their art. “There has been so much happening in the city’s art scene in the last 15 years, but virtually no real discussions about the nature of what work is being produced,” points out Narendra Kumar. “It’s like everyone is just in a race to sell.”

“There was an organic need felt for such a collective,” says Aparajithan Adimoolam, one of the founding members of the group. “The drive for this came not from outside but from within.”

Their unusual name is a hat-tip to this sense of purpose they all feel. “The word ‘Karuppu’ or ‘Black’ is part of our identity as artists from Tamil Nadu, one which can be used to paint us as the other,” he says. “As the Karuppu Art Collective keeps working and exhibiting, the word itself could acquire a different meaning, becoming a key, perhaps, to opening up some new doors.”