Devisri tells Soma Basu an artist’s vision rather than her labour should be recognised and encouraged
As a small-time grocer’s daughter, Devisri would be guilt-ridden when asking her father for money to buy canvas. “When my painting got spoilt, I would feel horrible for having wasted the canvas. But my parents never scolded me,” she says, as tears well up in her eyes.
As I drive her down to Madurai international airport, the tears flow for a different reason today. Three of her oil panels are mounted in the airport lounge.
The 25-year-old has never stepped inside an airport. She was approached in 2010 by an agency to make three panels measuring 12 feet by 4 feet each that would highlight something special about her hometown. She shortlisted three ideas – the aerial view of Meenakshi Temple, a view of the Chithirai festival across the river Vaigai and sunset at Kanyakumari. She completed the assignment and handed over the paintings last November.
A year later she got her first opportunity to see them on the walls of the newly renovated Madurai airport. A pride she could not hide. With a quiver in her voice she recalled her difficult childhood. How it was always a challenge for her parents and two siblings to make ends meet. How as a child she dared to dream and pursue a hobby that was expensive for her. “My parents bought me whatever I needed and I did not miss a single drawing competition in school. I never won a single prize,” she says. She is sad that her father is not alive to see her achievement.
Guided by the airport staff, Devisri races up the steps to the departure lounge. She scans the Chithirai festival painting and is at a loss for words. Next, we walk to the conveyor belt in the arrival lounge. The aerial view of Meenakshi Temple greets every visitor who disembarks at this virtual entry point to the city.
We catch a few foreigners admiring her painting and the smile returns to the face of the young artist.
Near the Customs Desk is the third canvas, showing sunset at Kanyakumari with the Vivekanada Rock Memorial and St. Thiruvalluvar’s statue against the backdrop of flowing waters.
Devisri suddenly grabs my hand, “Akka, my name has been erased from all the paintings.” She pulls out a letter from the agency that hired her for the job. It says Devisri has submitted on time the three paintings on the approved themes.
On our journey back, Devisri breaks the silence. “It’s okay. They paid me well. In fact, recently I made a portrait of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. The politician who gave me the job also told me not to tag my name. I have to become a famous artist first.”
Devisri always wanted her life to be different. After she joined the Thiagarajar Arts College, she seriously pursued painting as a hobby. “Some excellent teachers like Shanmuga Sundaram, Kannagi and Gnanprakash helped me to refine my works and specialise,” she says.
After five years of learning, toil, trial and error, Devisri now claims expertise in classical, traditional and Tanjore paintings, pencil shading, 3D glass and murals, pattachitra and reproduction of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings.
Her approach is simple. She completes a work and uploads it on her website (www.srivinayarts.in) and that has fetched her customers from the UK, Germany, France, Sri Lanka and all over India.
At any given time, there are 35 different types of paintings ready at her house, she says. “My mother is my critic. Only after she says it is good, I put it up for sale.” Devisri has also started teaching art classes for adults. “I mostly guide them and help them finish their incomplete work or train them to try out some new idea.”