Society

The mind of an artist

Recreating a whole new world: Artist PK Umesh Photo: M. Periasamy  

Artist Umesh calls himself one of those “introverts who are not smart in using words”. A conversation with him Umesh PK is filled with long-drawn pauses and reflections. “I cannot speak specifically,” he says apologetically when you probe him about his childhood. At times, you have to make do with just a smile. He finds more peace in visuals. Art is a solitary and meditative journey for him. “I always like to sit in my studio and process my thoughts. Images come only in solitude when you cut relationship with the outside world,” says the 30-year-old artist from Kerala. He who displays his first solo installation called Excavated Memories at Contemplate Art Gallery.

Everyone is welcome to his land called mythopoeia, where warriors shed blood, explorers on elephants conquer new lands and women holding lanterns fly on crocodiles. It is feels bizarre yet surprisingly real, taking one back to the memories hidden deep inside us. our collective consciousness. It is hard to make sense out of this complex visual narrative at the first glance. And Umesh is not helping either. He refuses to explain his art and would rather let the viewer roam freely in his world, which he calls as “mindscape”.

“My works are not exclusive to any intellectual or art connoisseur. You are free to form your opinion, and interpret the work. We feel guilty and inferior when we do not understand something. Art is not meant for understanding.”

The Contemplate Art Gallery has transformed into a museum. Along with oil on canvas, water colour and brown pencil paintings, there are also terracotta relics, maps of fictional lands, and skeletal diagrams of animals. The drawings are similar to history text book diagrams that serve as references.

The idea of recreating a museum like atmosphere stems from the artist’s strong belief that the space where the art work is displayed is equally important as the art itself. “The meaning of an art work changes according to the space it occupies and the kind of people who see it. I chose the museum concept to engage with the idea of authenticity of history,” says Umesh.

In Umesh’s land, imagination comes first and then the material evidences are reconstructed to make it look authentic. So there are worn out maps of mythical lands. The pages have been made to look dusted and old, by painting them brown and yellow. “Art is no longer about painting but also other visual forms that involve manual labour and practical sense,” feels Umesh. The terracotta relics have been constructed with the help of his artist friends.

Umesh owes many of his childhood imageries to the time spent in Kerala. His father used to do wooden carvings for temple architecture and was into theatre. All this has contributed to his art.

For instance, the painting called the ‘Ship of the Insane’ has a group of men in mundu, traditional Kerala costume, travelling on a ship. Two of them are playing mizhavu, an ancient percussion instrument used in Kerala. “When you see a work of art, you are seeing the past; and your own perceptions are reflected on the canvas,” says Umesh.

The sea and the ship are constant imageries in his works, reminding us of the European conquests. But the people are from the native land. While the paintings imitate the Renaissance style, the detailing reminds you of temple architecture. “I was taught to question Renaissance and Naturalist European art in college. But, I enjoy both Indian and Western art forms. I believe in being eclectic, in art.”

During his youth Umesh was fired by radical political ideologies, he recalls. “Being from Kerala, there is pressure of being politically right about everything. But it was after my post-graduation that I introspected. I thought I was in a black hole. I wanted to free myself from all ideological labels.”

Learning Fine Arts and Folk History in Hyderabad Central University introduced him to engage art through folk lore, history and architecture. “Even though I wanted my art to be free of all ideological theories and ideas, I realised I had to know them better in order to exclude them from the art.”

Today, he feels his art is open for anyone. And each response is a new learning experience. “I am not making a political statement through my art,” he says. Umesh has been working on this show for the past two years. But, he says some of the images have been brewing in his mind much before.

On the day of the launch, he is flocked by admirers, art enthusiasts and his friends. And he barely has time for a detailed chat. Many clear their queries with him, while a few others discuss his craft and technique in detail.

“It is a feeling of great excitement. The best part is the feedback. Many told me they could feel serenity in my paintings. And that is something I experience while I work. I am happy that we sync somewhere,” he smiles.

(The exhibition is on till June 27.)


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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 12:16:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/pk-umesh-speaks-on-his-art-forms/article7260324.ece

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