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Caw of the wild

It is so quiet inside Art Houz gallery that you can hear a pin drop... until a murder of crows in the distance decides to disturb it. The hoarse cawing transports artist Vijay Pitchumani to a chaotic morning, five years ago, when his life began to make sense.

Vijay had just passed out of Government College of Fine Arts with a set of skills in painting and printmaking, but little clue about where to use them. Being the first youngster ever to come out of the cocoon that was Pechi Parai, a small village in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Kanyakumari, he was expected to return in asuit, polished shoes and a heavy wallet. But Vijay had just started out in his career. It was a challenge, he admits, but a tougher one was explaining the same to his folks.

“‘What are you going to do? Will you find a job? You have been studying for six years…’ My father started comparing me with those who had completed their engineering in four years, joined multinational companies, and were providing for their families,” Vijay recalls his dad’s frustrated voice rising above the still ponds, calmly-grazing cows and faintly-creaking bamboo around. What he recalls more distinctly is the noise that followed — a hundred cawing crows blotted the bright morning sky. His mother stopped milking the cow, his father stopped cutting the bamboo stalks, and all the three ran towards the spot above which the crows were making wide circles. “The source of chaos was a dead crow. It’s ironical that while they mourned their loss, I was thankful for the distraction from the flood of questions that I did not have answers to,” he recalls. From that moment, Vijay started sincerely sketching what he saw, little knowing that it was the start of an obsession that would give birth to a series on the glossy black birds.

“I would turn every time I heard one. Once, I was at Lalit Kala Akademi for the launch of an art show. While the rest were getting into the exhibit hall, I stood outside watching two crows fighting. I couldn’t get my eyes off them. I realised that this fight, which was least significant for the rest of the gathering, was more important to me than the launch,” he says. On a philosophical level, Vijay realised that people’s priorities are different. “Each person has his or her distinct journey,” he says, and adds after a thought, “While I was a kid, my parents used to say that if I did not obey them, I would end up hanging upside down like a bat. Both of them would get up at 3 a.m., light the kerosene lamp, wake up my brothers and I to study, and leave for their daily chores. Some days, when they got back for breakfast, they would find us sprawled on the floor, books crumbled under us, and a few strands of our hair burnt in the lamp’s flame. I would later think about the bat theory and get scared. It took me years to realise that bats hang upside down because they are wired to do so; it’s not a dysfunctionality or a punishment.”

So, Vijay decided to embrace his uniqueness. He acknowledged his strength in drawing and joined art school, though his father wanted him to be an advocate. He won the best student award in printmaking while in college, a scholarship from Lalit Kala Akademi, and an award from Elango Foundation. A National Award for woodcut print, last year, gave him the confidence to continue on the pockmarked road of being an artist, which no one from his village could accept as a profession. “When I told them about the award, they did not understand its magnitude,” he laughs.

However, the prize money of Rs. 1 lakh brought some relief to his family’s financial situation. “But, only to an extent. Honestly, money doesn’t matter much to me. I am at peace, though my family is not. They expect me to earn, marry, buy a house and settle, but I know that life is much more than that. There have been many lonely nights, and long rides when I question my role in this world. These thoughts send me spiralling into another journey to seek answers, which later find a form in my works,” he says.

Vijay’s new exhibition, ‘Dots’, is on at Art Houz Gallery, Kasturi Rangan Road, till October 20.

Finding patterns

The technique of woodcut print involves carving out a pattern from wood, applying ink on the embossed parts, and then printing it onto a paper. For Vijay, more than the prints, it is the texture of the wood that he finds appealing. Vijay says that there is a common pattern “in the rings of a bark, the veins of a leaf, the ripples in a pond, the flow of lava from a volcano, and the crack when a phone falls on the floor”. He believes that it is probably because of this pattern that we are able to sense the breeze, hear a sound, or feel an object. After six years of observing roots, shoots and leaves, watching videos of arteries and veins inside the human body, and studying the concept of lightning, Vijay now sees a pattern that is invisible to the normal eye. “I want to explore more. I want to know what the components of blood are like. Do they have the same pattern?”

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 2:53:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Caw-of-the-wild/article16073976.ece

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