Aesthetics behind the obvious

In physics, escape velocity is the speed a travelling object must achieve to break away from gravity’s pull. For painter and photographer Vimal Chandran, the term is a metaphor to break away from our prejudices, our conditioning, and the boundaries we wilfully box ourselves into.

From the women in his art to the birds in his photographs, everything in his second solo exhibition, at Durbar Hall Art Gallery, titled ‘Escape Velocity’ reaches out to fly free.

Vimal’s life story has been one of upturning the conventional. An engineer, and later a manager, at a well-paying corporate job for close to a decade, Vimal left the comforts of salaried living to give himself to art.

“My father used to draw in his spare time, and he bought me my first set of water colours. It’s tough to learn, because you can’t undo mistakes. Since I grew up with it, I’m most comfortable in this medium,” he says.

Although Vimal continued painting through school and college, he consciously returned to his passion only during his first job. The inactive years in between meant that he had lost some touch but practise brought back the fluency, he says. It was also at this time that he bought his first camera, began touring the country and realised he loved travel photography as much as painting.

The two passions have since flourished parallel and Vimal blends them to form a medium all his own. One of his earliest creations, for instance, is a photograph of his cousin painting a dove on his t-shirt, while behind him rise the birds in flight that Vimal had paintedon his grandmother’s wall, all in seamless continuum.

“I choose my medium of expression by the impact I believe each has. That changes depending on what I’m trying to say. And sometimes, it’s a mix of mediums that works best.” A painting called ‘No more love songs’, for example, has musical note cut-outs falling from the picture’s frame, while from another, butterflies take off its corners.

One of the most-loved series on his hugely popular Facebook page is Unposted Letters, where Vimal merges digital painting with stick figure drawings. The series began one morning when he noticed that while musicians and actors had their space on social media, artists rarely did.

“For something to catch our attention on our Facebook feeds, it needs a quick and easy access point, something not many artists did online. So I decided to tell a love story through pictures.” And thus was born the series where a little boy writes letters he never sends to a girl with a red umbrella.

The paintings feature all the hurt, happiness and hope of a relationship, generously sprinkled with the popular culture references only the Facebook generation would get. In one Letter, the boy stands on the empty unspooled wheel of a music cassette, while the girl stands on the full one, and the film connecting them reads, “Let’s go back to the start,” - a line from band Coldplay’s famous song ‘Scientist’.

“My work reflects my personality and my influences, from the music I listen to, to the poetry I read and the conversations I have. It may look cute but there’s usually always a deeper message,” he says. Many of the Unposted Letters, for instance, talk of violence, war and political events but are presented through the deceptively simple stick figures. Another installation of his shows cages with birds’ nests inside them, suggesting the borders we are born within, while another depicts a sewing machine that only stitches national flags together. “It’s hitting on these ideas of presentation that take my time, not the art itself.” As for drawing from mass culture, Vimal says he only uses that which appeals to his personal aesthetic as well: “art that is accessible to everyone, but is yet more than it first appears to be.”

This is best seen in Vimal’s Mahpiohanza series, beautifully rich watercolour paintings of women in poses traditionally reserved for fashion shoots. Here though, instead of the style they flaunt, Vimal puts the focus back on the women themselves, in a manner most poetic. Similarly, his ‘Anonymous Birds’ series photographs everyday street birds, but in unusual postures. The viewer’s double take is what Vimal takes most pleasure in. “My art must provoke thought,” he says. Escape Velocity is on till May 31.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 5:43:52 PM |

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