Premalatha Seshadri’s retrospective shows her signature style of art — stick figures with dots

The exhibition, titled Birds of Cauvery, at Chennai Lalit Kala Akademi puts the spotlight on Premalatha’s visual vocabulary that embodies the fundamental characteristics of minimalism

Updated - March 10, 2023 05:05 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2023 04:24 pm IST

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri | Photo Credit: RV RAMANI

The retrospective, titled Birds of Cauvery, by artist Premalatha Seshadri at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai, paints a vivid imagery of birds with art. Over a passage of time, she worked on removing all that she felt was unnecessary to explore the essence of what the line could communicate. That’s how she found her signature style — stick figures with dots. Short lines and daubs became birds, waves, lotuses, turtles, fishes, men on horses, and so on. Her visual vocabulary is strong and simple, embodying the fundamental characteristics of minimalism.

Premalatha Seshadri

Premalatha Seshadri | Photo Credit: Chennai Lalit Kala Akademi

Premalatha, who studied art in mid-60s at the Government Arts College under the stewardship of K.C.S. Paniker and other senior artists of the Madras School of Art, has experimented with block prints at Gandhinagar, Madurai. She did printmaking at Garhi Studios in Delhi, mentored by artist Devraj Dakoji. She started painting landscapes with oil paints and knife in her early days and slowly found her own inimitable style, which could be called “Reverence to the line”.

Nearly five decades ago she came to Chennai, when it was called Madras, as a newly wed and moved in with her husband social scientist Dr. C.V. Seshadri to her home on the beachfront of Injambakkam. The sky, sea, monsoon rains, birds, fishes, turtles, and the colours and rhythms, influenced her body of work in all these years.

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri | Photo Credit: RV RAMANI

Premalatha talks of her early years growing up with her siblings and having a “merry carefree life”. Being the youngest, sometimes her solitude took her to explore drawing with pencils, crayons and colours. That’s where it all began.

A wall of photographs exhibits a visual timeline of her life, from childhood to youth and then her journey in the art world. The exhibition displays her works from various exhibitions. The Hunt 1985 had been inspired by the metaphors in her personal life as well as the Ayyanar terracotta images.

A wall of photographs at the exhibition shows visual timeline of  Premalatha’s life

A wall of photographs at the exhibition shows visual timeline of  Premalatha’s life | Photo Credit: Chennai Lalit Kala Akademi

Fractals was Premalatha’s another landmark show where turtles were her source of inspiration. Meant to be a mathematical term for attempts to break down patterns in nature into smaller fragments until a new pattern, perhaps even chaotic in its outcome, is formed. For Premalatha the intersection of intellect and the challenge of presenting it two-dimensionally on her paper often resulted in zen-like works meditated upon with a deep thought. Proclaiming her mastery over line, she says , “I can now handle and manipulate anything.”

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri

Artwork by Premalatha Seshadri | Photo Credit: RV RAMANI

She says, of her process, “ The controlled line in my work is not accidental or by chance. As a matter of fact nothing is accidental. It is the skill in controlling the brush and stopping at the right moment. This is a discipline one has to cultivate and develop and it requires intellectualisation of concepts at hand.”

Memory, nostalgia, the life lived in nature, simplicity, and poetry in movement all come together in Premalatha’s work. Birds feast on blue lotuses, turtles multiply and then are solitary, fish separate and converge, lines blur into art. “On rainy days, I would take a walk along the seashore and feel the fury of the sea within me as the rain splashed on,” she adds.

“I am happy, for my work to be seen, to be recognised, to be finally acknowledged after all the years at this retrospective,” she says with a glint of delight in her eyes and her trademark gurgle of laughter. It is an important milestone at the crossroads of her artistic journey.

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