Portrait of an artist

A. Rajan at work on a painting at his residence in Tiruchi. PHOTO: R.M. RAJARATHINAM

A. Rajan at work on a painting at his residence in Tiruchi. PHOTO: R.M. RAJARATHINAM   | Photo Credit: R_M_RAJARATHINAM

A. Rajan’s heart was always in art – no matter what the medium

There’s a reason why A. Rajan’s portfolio is so thin – most of his artworks adorn the walls of Tiruchi’s Anna Science Centre-Planetarium and other state government-run learning centres. From technical drawing to lettering, with a few turns into model-making, signage and life-size paintings, Rajan’s body of work is simply too vast to be confined within cardboard files.

At weekends, the now-retired artist can be seen painting, with near-photographic finesse, pictures of birds at the Karaivetti Bird Sanctuary in Ariyalur district.

For the rest of the week, he is a lecturer in two fine arts colleges in Tiruvanaikovil and Kelvelur, Nagapattinam district.

“My life has gone by with just my art,” says Rajan, 65, while trying to hold down paintings on perspective that are drying on the floor of his living room at his Kallukuzhi, Tiruchi residence.

Rajan’s heart was always in art - and his father, A. Antony, was his first inspiration. As a youngster, Rajan would watch his father, a school teacher, preparing charts and models at home for the Dindigul Education Division.

“I used to stand by his side,” recalls Rajan, “sometimes my father used to hold my hand and guide me in certain techniques.”

His elder brother was adept at portraiture, a skill Rajan picked up as well, sketching actors like MGR and Sivaji Ganesan from film magazines.

Confident of “doing this all my life,” Rajan applied for the certificate courses in drawing offered by the Technical Education Centre, while still in school.

He qualified in both lower and higher grades of freehand outline and model drawing by 1968.

War and peace

In 1971, at the height of the Bangladesh War, Rajan, then 22, found himself enlisted as a soldier in the Infantry Battalion, and posted in Barmer, Rajasthan.

“My brothers and uncle were already in the army,” explains Rajan when asked about the detour into the armed forces. “My village N. Panjampatti near Dindigul is in fact famous for its high number of college graduates and army recruits in the state.”

Rajan returned to formal studies after serving in the army for five months and 16 days. A First Class diploma in fine arts from the Government College of Arts & Crafts in Chennai followed.

After graduating from the five-year course in 1978, Rajan’s first job was as a graphic artist for Doordarshan's Madras-based channel, where his brush-art – letters with illustration on A-4 size paper – was used for telecasting show credits and announcements. “All that we did by hand those days has now been taken over by computers,” says Rajan.

Next, he worked as a senior silk printer at the Gandhigram Institute of Rural Health and Family Welfare, Ambathari from 1979 to 1984, where he created public awareness campaign posters on a wide range of health issues.

“Even though I was happy that I was near my family, I realised this job was not really related to what I had qualified for,” says Rajan.

Art of exhibition

That search led him to respond to an advertisement from the Tamil Nadu Science Centre for artists and exhibition officers in 1984. “I attended the interview with a pop-up model of the centre using a technique that I had learned from my father,” recalls Rajan. After clearing the qualifying test, he was posted to Tiruchi’s Anna Science Centre-Planetarium in 1985 and was to remain there until retirement in 2009.

“Ours was a team of first-timers,” says Rajan. “The centre was being built from scratch, and we were all excited to be part of the project.”

Most of his work, on topics ranging from natural sciences to astronomy, can still be seen intact in the centre. “The science committee would prepare the script and the departments of art, electricity and electronics would get involved in preparing the exhibits,” says Rajan.

Despite years of service under his belt, Rajan is not yet ready to quit. “I have no plans, except that my hands should always be busy,” he says. “My three children were all good at art in school, but they have opted to specialise in other fields. As a teacher of art, I feel that the creativity of students is much lower today. Their first tendency is to surf the Net for ideas when they are given an assignment. Since they are copying concepts, the workmanship will also suffer,” he adds.

Art still fires up Rajan’s days, as is evident from his workspace cluttered with brushes, paints and any number of bits and pieces of cardboard from previous projects.

“I find it hard to throw away anything,” he laughs, gesturing at the mess around him.

“I zone out completely when I’m working, and even forget to eat. My wife and I always argue about the number of meals I have missed.”

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 1:38:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/portrait-of-an-artist/article5664516.ece

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