Artist M.V. Devan passes away

He built several iconic and lasting cultural institutions and art and journal practices in Kerala.

Updated - May 21, 2016 01:49 pm IST

Published - April 30, 2014 01:56 am IST - Kochi:

M.V. Devan. Photo: Vipin Chandran

M.V. Devan. Photo: Vipin Chandran

Fearless artist, orator and cultural activist M.V. Devan died at his residence, ‘Choorni’ in Aluva, near here, on Tuesday. He was 86.

Troubled by age-related ailments since his last birthday on January 15, the artist breathed his last around 2.20 pm.

He is survived by daughters Jameela and Shalini. His wife Sreedevi had passed away earlier.

The body will be kept at the Town Hall in Aluva on Wednesday for the public to pay their last respects. The cremation will take place at a simple ceremony, as he had desired, at Ambattu Kavu public cemetery at 5 p.m.

Like his mentor M. Govindan, Devan obstinately ploughed a lonely furrow. His outspokenness often triggered cultural spats with leading writers, politicians and orators.

He holds the singular distinction of having built several iconic and lasting cultural institutions and art and journal practices in Kerala.

Born at Chockli in Kannur, Devan learnt art from masters like D.P. Roy Chowdhury and K.C.S. Panicker at the Government School of Arts and Crafts in Madras, now Chennai, for six years from 1946.


He joined Mathrubhumi in 1952 and broke new ground in serialised publication of Malayalam fiction in the Mathrubhumi weekly by rendering remarkable illustrations for the works of literary stalwarts like Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Uroob.

“Mathrubhumi’s then Editor V.M. Nair wanted a trained artist to do illustrations in the weekly. And Devan’s sketches set off a movement of sorts, lending a certain seriousness to illustrations for literary fiction in Malayalam journals,” recalls veteran artist Namboodiri, who had worked with Devan in Mathrubhumi.

He will be remembered for setting up institutions like the erstwhile Kalapeetom in Ernakulam and the art village Malayala Kalagramam in New Mahe. Devan displayed tremendous skills in organising art camps, rendering literary and thoughtful speeches and in creating art and architecture awareness among Malayalis, says Namboodiri.

In 1961, he relinquished the post in Mathrubhumi and returned to Madras to work as art consultant and Malayalam editor of the Southern Languages Book Trust.

Soon, Devan was appointed maiden secretary of the Madras Lalithakala Akademi. Around the same time, he worked in close coordination with visionary administrator M.K.K. Nayar in organising the landmark All India Writers’ Conference in Aluva.

Persuaded by Nayar, he returned to Kerala to become art consultant for Fact Engineering and Design Organisation (Fedo), FACT, in Udyogamandal, Aluva.

The period saw him make the switch from painting to sculpture; some of his noteworthy public sculptures in stone, cement, and tiles were thus born.

Later in his life, Devan headed the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi and founded an architecture consultancy firm, Perumthachan, to promote Kerala-style architecture. “Though not a trained architect, he pioneered environment-friendly construction of dwelling units in the State well before the iconic architect Laurie Baker drove the idea home,” says writer K.N. Shaji.

Firm on convictions

Despite his contributions, what always came to the fore were his piquant (legal) battles with writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair, his caustic remarks on politicians on their face, and his steadfast adherence to convictions.

Devan remained a fervent and spirited critic of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which he thought was extending step-motherly treatment to Kerala-based artists. Writer T. Padmanabhan, who shared a deep friendship with Devan for 65 years, told The Hindu that Devan in his prime was by far Kerala’s best orator.

Devan also excelled as an editor and writer and a compilation of his essays, titled ‘Devaspandanam’, went on to bag the prestigious Vayalar Award.

Documentary filmmaker Kalapeetom Binuraj had just begun to make a biopic on Devan, also called Devaspandanam, when the artist fell ill.

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