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Read between the lines

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Intricate work K. Saravanan's Nakula Ratha
Intricate work K. Saravanan's Nakula Ratha

K. Saravanan's ‘Strokes and Shades' is a tribute to the dying art of black-and-white sketching

K. Saravanan's ongoing exhibition at Gallery Sri Parvati, ‘Strokes and Shades', is about a lot of things — revival of the slowly disappearing black-and-white art form; an exploration of ancient Hindu temples, figurines and monuments; a technical experiment in the many ways you can use the line.

But above all, it is about attention to detail — tiny, exquisite details of texture and material, shadow and light, effects of erosion over time, and centuries of exposure to rain and sun.

Dimension and detail

“I've taken great care to create minute detail and tonal value in my drawings, to give dimension to the images,” says Saravanan, a graphic designer at an IT company by day, and a dedicated artist by night. “I deliberately selected subjects that presented a special challenge, which gave a richer artistic experience.”

So, for instance, the picture of a Nandi from the Pallava era in Kancheepuram captures not only the form of the statue, but the texture of the sandstone, smoothened by the passage of time, and the play of light and shadow over it — using nothing but miniscule lines.

“I used engineering/technical drawing pen with a nib of 1 mm thickness — so, thousands of tiny lines have to be drawn together to create a particular degree of blackness,” says the graduate from the Government College of Fine Arts. Not surprisingly, each of these works takes him up to a month, particularly since he works on them only for two hours every evening after his regular eight-hour workday. “I go to temples in the evening and, at one time, visited Chidambaram every weekend for a series of works,” he says. That series includes an intricate rendering of a granite statue of Vishnu and Garuda from the Pandya dynasty, this time using a quill and archival quality Indian ink. “I want my work to stay for a long time, so I use only archival ink and archival paper,” says Saravanan, who works closely with art conservator Aparajita.

He weaves his lines together to create the textures of nature as well — of Casurina trees and their fallen leaves, of bushes and the ocean. The most gorgeous series of drawings in the exhibition would have to be of the rathas in Mahabalipuram, in which he depicts multiple elements on a single canvas — the stone sculpture itself, the greenery that surrounds it, its compound walls, and more. “The most challenging part was capturing the stains of rain water, the damage due to erosion, the rough texture of cut rocks, etc.,” he says.

His first solo exhibition, ‘Strokes and Shades' is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work, and is his contribution to the dying art of black-and-white sketching. “You see it rarely nowadays — it's slowly disappearing,” says Saravanan.

The exhibition is on until March 7.

DIVYA KUMAR

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