A printmaker’s legacy

SYMBOLS AND STORIES One of Gopal’s landscapes.   | Photo Credit: grjgm

The 25 anniversary of late artist K.S. Gopal (1938 – 1989) was commemorated with the release of a monograph Pranavarth by his daughters G. Latha and G. Priya at Cholamandalam Artists Village. At the Laburnum and Indigo Galleries, a collection of his etchings, collographs and original plates are on display, carefully preserved by his wife Saraswati Gopal. K.S. Gopal was drawn to symbols in his art — motifs such as the lotus, linga, swastika, sun and moon occur frequently. The snake in circular form depicts the world constantly rejuvenating. In one etching, Gopal has inscribed the words Undrai Kulam Uruvanai Devam – one religion, one God. “My father was more spiritual than religious,” says Latha. “He was born in an agricultural place called Thirunindravur which translates to ‘Where the Lord stood.’ He was always connected to the land. He meditated, did gardening. In all his works, you will find earth, water and sky.”

Like many others, Gopal bought land, encouraged by K.C.S. Paniker in 1966, and Saraswati Gopal supported him in his endeavours. By 1978, Gopal had built a house and the family settled in Cholamandalam. Cherishing the times spent with their father returning home from school, Latha reminisces, “He was a real family man at heart.” At the opening function at the Cholamandalam Galleries, sculptor S. Nandagopal, who released the monograph, chose to remember the man behind the works. Senior artists M.Senathipathi, P.Gopinath and S.G.Vasudev recalled Gopal for his singular nature. Vasudev said, “He was honest, principled and sincere. He was not very ambitious but he knew what he wanted and where he stood. Importantly, he did not compare himself to anyone else.” Gopinath noted that Gopal was influenced by Tantric art, a movement created in Madras in the 1970s. Unlike artists who painted for sizeable effect, Gopal was less concerned about saleable work, experimenting bravely and resolutely with symbolism. Central to many compositions is Om, the primordial sound, concentrating on which it is believed all materiality dissolves. But the sound here is a symbol, the essence of thought that Paniker propounded of word and image. Gopinath writes ‘Yaanai’ to show how the calligraphic line forms the image. “In the south, artists have a strong sense of drawing.” Thus word and image are inextricably bound through the line. It is writing, after all, that defines script and, in linearity, the etching of symbols rests in simplified abstraction. Gopal’s works are titled generically — Composition, Landscape and Om.

Signs from the landscape

In the gallery, works of symbolism along with text are interspersed with landscapes. Art historian Ashrafi Bhagat observes in the monograph: “Within the Indian visual art tradition, the varied symbols configuring the rich iconography, incidentally, have been sourced from nature.” Gopal’s technique was reductionist and he was constantly distilling signs from the landscape to render meaning.

In one landscape, undecipherable notations, as if torn from parchment, are placed on either side of a lotus. In the next work, we see symbols we identify with, the Om at centre and writings in Tamil from numerous scripts. Comparing the two, it appears Gopal was drawing the written language from its origins in nature, to indicate words make up the universe, with one word, one sound, central to all of it — Om.

Why did Gopal choose to etch and not draw or paint? Etching is usually preferred as a method of reproduction, but Gopal’s print editions are usually just about 10, while printmakers normally do runs of 100.

He was interested in what the technique had to offer, the tools and methods that could best fashion his explorations. “In those days, it was very hard to get a zinc plate even,” explains Gopinath. “So he made collographs initially.” Here, the reversed image was etched into a bed of French chalk and adhesive mixture on a mount board base.

The reflective nature of the image is common to etching and photography. Gopal rendered his collographs in monochromatic hues of reds, oranges and greens.

These have a latent luminosity, as if holding a secret like the photographic negative.

Following K.S Gopal’s line of interpretation, one sees the world as that negative and its symbolic interpretation as the positive through the mind’s eye.

At Cholamandalam till September 21, 2014.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 11:49:19 PM |

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