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‘Our work is spontaneous. And, very personal’

Concept artists K. Mohammed Ilyas and R. ThangaveluPhoto: S. Siva Saravanan.   | Photo Credit: S. SIVA SARAVANAN

I scribble my signature on a piece of paper and watch artists R. Thangavelu and K. Mohammed Ilyas work on it. Ilyas captures my job profile and adds a pen and scribbling pad to it while Thangavelu creates a beautiful portrait around it. “Now, this art is unique and close to your heart. That is signature art,” smile the artists. They say signature art makes for special gifts. “We have done signature art for actor Kamal Haasan, where we sketched the actor in a dancing posture. For folk singer Anita Kuppusamsy, we created an image of a woman holding a veena. Any signature is valuable. A touch of art makes it extra special. And, only you will identify your signature,” says Ilyas.

It is a little past lunch time when I meet the artists at Hotel Anna Vilas in R.S. Puram. The place is still buzzing with diners. We proceed upstairs to the AC hall upstairs and discuss art over a scrumptious platter of kebabs. The art work on the walls immediately catches your eye. One part of the wall is done in texture art in black and golden shades, and another stands out with embossed images of vegetables. “We have played with the concept of vegetarian food in which the hotel specialises,” explains Thangavelu.

Theme art, book wrappers, greeting cards, graphics, logos, 3D work, wall sculptures…the artists have experimented with a variety of styles and techniques. “Be it oil, acrylic, or water colour, media doesn’t matter. It is very difficult to market our work. What we need is creative ideas to spark our imagination,” says Thangavelu. “We create a visual storyboard as we listen to stories or ideas and recreate it from our memory in varied styles,” explains Ilyas.

The two friends have known each other for over 20 years, right from the time when they were studying art at Mannarkad in Kerala. While Ilyas worked as art teacher in Kerala and then in the U.A.E., Thangavelu took a plunge in the world of advertising and then set up Maruthi Printers that specialises in a range of creative printing work. For the last eight years, they have teamed up and specialise in concept-driven art in the form of wall art for homes and corporate houses, we'dding invites, book wrappers, and more.

One of their notable wall-art occupies the walls of Anjappar Restaurant at OMR in Chennai where Ilyas sketches the humble beginnings of the founder in Karaikudi in black-and-white images and then moves to a sepia tone to show his transition to Chennai and then colours to show success. “When I draw the image of young Anjappar running a small mess at Ponamaravathi, I make it a point to show the young man holding a book, as his sons told me that he is an avid reader. I also put a poster from the film Karnan to show the timeline. The founder was a favourite of MGR, so I bring the picture of the film studio and the shooting of MGR’s Rickshakaaran film…attention to details is the key,” he says.

You can call us visual story-tellers, says Thangavelu, as he scrolls the mouse on his laptop to show one of his works that adorns the walls of an IT company. The wall art starts off showing runner Usain Bolt and moves on to A.R. Rahman, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in a conversation, Hitler standing tall, and also Rajinikanth taming a bull. “The images of personalities stress on values of administration, determination, success, and so on,” he explains. Another image of a woman aiming at a target with an arrow is an example of proportion of face and body, expressions, balance, lighting, and colour schemes. “The woman here is not a terror but a determined one,” says Ilyas.

Another striking work can be seen at the office of Alstom Coimbatore that manufactures metro rail coaches. It starts off with a train chugging out of India Gate in Delhi and traverses the length and breadth of the country…images of Taj Mahal, Zakir Hussain, Abdul Kalam, and the boat race of Kerala are thrown in and there is a representation of metro train for Coimbatore. “We have called it Siruvani Metro and hope that we have one in the future. We add a touch of our vision too in such work,” they explain.

Ilyas’s work of a village scene for an interior of a home in Ganapathy transports you visually to a village, the banyan tree, children playing in front of houses, the paddy fields…. “For the owner it brings a sense of nostalgia. We want art to have a personal connect. The awe-inspiring world we see in films like Avatar or Baahubali is a result of the work of thousands of artists who visualise the images in their heads,” he adds.

Recalling their days in Mannarkad, Ilyas says, “We took art to ensure that we get a government job. We didn’t dream about becoming an M.F. Husain or Picasso. There were days when we would just sit under a tree and draw anything that catches our fancy. We had an effortless approach to art; we would take turns to model for each other …we were a handful of 10 students and two art teachers. We chose art to earn a livelihood. Though you employ techniques in work, some works sparkle with a divine touch. My embossing work on 18th century Roman Kitchen is one such example. It has everything going for it.”

Says Thangavelu, “There are no rehearsals. Our work is spontaneous. And, very personal.”

For art's sake

Ilyas has done shows across India where he sings and draws portraits of personalities. Music director Gangai Amaran, actors Prabhu, Mohanlal and Amitabh Bachchan are some of the big names who he has drawn.

Their works have found takers in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kerala (a resort in Kumarakoam features 80 of their paintings), Ooty and Kotagiri too.

They are known for their unique wedding invite designs too. Thangavelu designed a wedding invite that had portraits of the bride and the groom rowing a boat. This was for actor Aari, who got married during the Chennai floods.

To know more, call Thangavelu at 086808-18283 and Ilyas at 098467-35534


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 6:45:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/t-thangavelu-and-k-mohammed-ilyas-two-concept-artists-from-mannarkad-on-the-various-art-forms-that-they-practise/article8585463.ece

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