Art

Where art is born

Artist Babu Xavier at his studio in Kovalam Photo:S. Mahinsha  

Pink is Babu Xavier’s favourite colour. Sure enough, pink elephants greet visitors to his paint-splattered, sunny studio on the first floor of his house, just a stone’s throw away from the beach resort of Kovalam. In this narrow lane, through which a two-wheeler can scarcely squeeze through, one can hear the wind in the leaves and get a whiff of fish frying in neighbours’ houses. The sea is a constant presence that can be heard in the backdrop.

Babu’s creative space, like his studio, is a curious study in contrasts. In the early eighties, when Babu was making a splash in the art world, he decided to shift to the backwaters as his brush with the metros did not inspire him or his art. Ignoring the advice of well-wishers who warned him that he would not be doing himself any good by moving away from the art markets in the metros, he settled for good in Kovalam. Nevertheless, the reach of information technology and his distinctive art brought the world to his doorstep and so Babu has been able to leave his imprint in the art world without stepping out of his cosy home and studio.

A rather steep staircase takes visitors to a flower-filled terrace that leads to Babu’s studio and den. Daubs and streaks of acrylic paint on the cement floor of the terrace mark a trail to the artist’s workspace. “Acrylic paints dry quickly and that is why there is paint all over the floor and easel. Moreover, I don’t use the brush always. Sometimes, I pour or splash the paint for the background of my works,” explains the artist.

His artistic vigour is apparent on the paint covered easel and wooden parquet floor. A tall, narrow cupboard on one side of the easel holds jars of paints while umpteen jars of paints, opened and used, brushes and used rags cover a table on the other side. Canvases of different sizes are stacked all around the room. Elephants, lizard-like creatures and blobs that resemble amoeba (?) inhabit the canvases. “All my paintings have animal motifs. Perhaps that is my zoology background making itself felt on the canvas,” laughs the self-taught artist.

The simple whitewashed walls are a delightful contrast to his bright art works. “Pink is not a colour that is used in traditional Indian art. However, I am not shackled by rules and strictures regarding style, colours and combinations that are forced upon impressionable youngsters who go to art schools,” he says.

Sunlight that filters in through the leaves streams in through windows all around the room and more than six tubelights are positioned on the ceiling just above his easel.

“That is because most of my painting is done at night when it is quiet. During the day, I read a lot, watch television and listen to music. I have to lie down when I read and that is why you can see a bed in this room,” says the 56-year-old artist pointing to his television and music system. The only cane chair in the room is for visitors who come to meet the artist, as he rarely leaves Kovalam.

M.F. Husain left his footprints in this space in 1999 when he came to Thiruvananthapuram. Till then Babu used to paint post card sized paintings and it was on Husain’s advice that he took to painting on larger canvases. And it is here that the world comes calling for Babu’s art works that are painted in this room.

A room adjacent to his studio is a spic and span room with a computer and catalogues, obviously an office space where Babu interacts with his clients and fans.

“There is a misconception that the art market exists only in the metros. Technology has erased distance and so I have buyers from all around the world even though I rarely hold exhibitions and shows now. I have fastidious art collectors from Kanjirappally to Kansas. Then there are corporates who commission my works. I decide the themes but they have a say in the size of the work. All that work is done here in my house. There is hardly anyone who does not know me in Kovalam. But they know me as a resident not as an artist with a global following,” elaborates the artist.

He says that till a few years ago, he did not even have a name plate outside his home. However since he began buying paints and brushes online, the courier companies wanted some helpful landmarks and that is when he added his nameplate to the gate of his house.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 1:02:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/Where-art-is-born/article16077782.ece

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