Art world’s Famous Five

K. Madhavan  

Incessant rain did not stop people from assembling at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya’s Vinoba Hall to hear renowned magazine illustrator Maniam Selvan talk about Tamil Nadu’s famous five artists – K. Madhavan, S. Rajam, Shilpi, Gopulu, and his father Maniam. The lecture was a monthly feature of the Tamil Paramparyam group.

Ma.Se. walked down memory lane, recalling how the masters had inspired him. He was all reverence for these maestros whose strokes in both line and wash provided a visual treat to thousands of readers of Tamil periodicals.

The power-point presentation indeed turned into one of the memorable events of the Tamil Paramparyam. The highlight of the evening was the visuals he chose to show during his talk that more than compensated his crisp explanations. K. Madhavan’s wash drawings, his colour compositions, the scenic beauty that he drew in portraying the village characters were simply awesome. The woman in a pensive mood looking at a pond drew loud appreciation from the audience. His paintings of group of animals, including a snake that had spread, were true to life. Ma.Se. informed that all these paintings are still fortunately being preserved by the owners of a city theatre.

S. Rajam was special for Ma.Se. was concerned. It was his father Sundaram Iyer who introduced his father Maniam to Kalki Krishnamurthi, when the former was a student of school of arts and crafts. “My paternal uncle Lingayya was close to Rajam Sir’s father. He wanted to help our family. My father wanted to complete the course and get a diploma. Kalki, in his inimitable way asked young Maniam, ‘Who is going to make the illustrations, you or your diploma?’ ?” Maniam promptly joined the magazine. But he missed the degree so much so that he insisted his son got it and Ma.Se. obliged.

According to Ma.Se., Rajam was a genius who painted in true Indian style and he was a specialist in frescos. “Rajam’s music trinity pictures have been universally accepted. Even if Tyagarajaswamy were to appear in person, people may not accept him,” he said. When Rajam was asked to draw the Pradosham scene with the Kanchi Mahaswami, Rajam only drew the celestial scene but asked Ma.Se. to draw the Mahaswami’s illustration in the foreground. “I was humbled!” he said reverentially, mentioning Rajam’s recommendation.

Maniam’s visit to Ajantha and Ellora accompanied by his wife, along with the editorial team was exceptional. For certain sequences, he asked his wife and an assistant to pose as models. Maniam, an excellent photographer that he was, had taken those shots for his paintings later. While drawing the cover of the Weekly, his original sketches were different from the actual painting that adorned the cover. The restlessness of an artist in evolving the right poses and proportions was brought out clearly by the speaker. Kalki’s historical characters were brought to life by Maniam, who was art director when ‘Parthiban Kanavu’ was filmed.

“Gopulu was an all-rounder,” declared Ma.Se. with admiration. “He drew cartoons, silent jokes, illustrations for stories and excelled in each area. His foray into advertising field saw him producing some of the artistic calendars for his clients and elegant advertisement pieces. He took magazine illustration to the highest level, when he drew characters for ‘Thillana Mohanambal,’ becoming the darling of the masses. His sense of humour was astonishing even when he had a stroke. (‘People talked about my ‘strokes’. Now the ‘stroke’ made them to speak about me!’) When his right side was paralysed, he drew with his left hand. His full-page colour jokes in the Deepavali Malars still evoke laughter in us, even after five decades. “Gopulu is a maestro and Guru for all of us artists!”

“Shilpi was a divine gift to us. He brought temple architecture to every home in Tamil Nadu. Even photographs would not give the three-dimensional view, but Shilpi’s drawings would do it admirably” said Ma.Se. He showed the front, back and profile of a Paavai Vilakku to prove his point. “You can count the ornaments of the deities by looking at his paintings. Once he was left inside the sanctum sanctorum of Goddess Karpagambal in the afternoon and the doors where shut. When Shilpi came out of the shrine late in the evening, he had the portrait of Ambal in all her beauty.

Maniam Selvan talked about his own interest in the art, including his work in the advertising field in Mumbai, before taking up the job of lay-out and illustration artist in magazines. Specimens of his work were also presented. He was overcome with emotion while talking about the Kailasanathar temple in Ellora cave number Sixteen. “I paid my humble tribute to those unknown sculptors and prostrated on the ground, closing my moist eyes!” he said.

Maniam Selvan should repeat his presentation to a larger audience.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 7:58:41 AM |

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