Creating beauty with the tip of his tongue

Ani Varnam paints Swami Vivekananda. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar

Ani Varnam paints Swami Vivekananda. Photo: C. Suresh Kumar  

It is no slip of the tongue. Artist Ani Varnam always has the canvas at the tip of his tongue and that is no tongue-in-cheek pastime of his, for he is a serious portrait and landscape painter who has created more than 1,000 fine paintings by using his tongue as a brush.

The 32-year-old drawing teacher from Karunagapally, who teaches at the neighbourhood Lord’s Public School, always had an urge to do something different with his painting talent. The inspiration to get his tongue round the canvas came in 1997 when he read about an artist who paints with his toes.

No looking back since then, and he went ahead dabbing his tongue with oil paint to lap the canvas and create works of art.

Mr. Ani said that before he thought of the tongue it was the nose which came to his mind. But then he came to know that there were many around sticking their nose to the canvas. He wanted to be unique.

Guinness record

Apart from licking the Last Supper on a 8ft x 4ft canvas in record time in an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Ani had used his tongue to paint Jesus Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane, a big collection of landscapes and portraits including that of Sree Narayana Guru, Swami Vivekananda, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

Initially there was hardly anyone to appreciate his work. But a telecast about him in a media channel a few years ago changed the scenery. Soon he got much attention even from abroad, for there was no other known painter using the same medium.

Media teams and art lovers from England, South Korea and Japan came to Karunagapally to meet him and record his demonstration. He has also been invited to Japan for a show which is scheduled for later this year.

While Mr. Ani used to be a prolific tongue painter, he has of late put his tongue on hold on health grounds. Oil paint contains toxic substances and continuously tasting it for the canvas had affected his liver. As a result he contracted jaundice and was hospitalised for two weeks.

Doctors then advised him to have control over his craving for oil paint.

Now-a-days Mr. Ani tongues only for demonstrations. He says that though he had taken up a unique art form there never was any encouragement from the side of the authorities. At least the media fraternity from Japan honoured him with an award which contained a decent cash packet, he said.

Apart from working as an arts teacher at the school, Mr. Ani also runs a painting school christened ‘Varnam’ at Karunagapally where over 200 students are learning the art of using the brush on canvas.

Mr. Ani has also created paintings using both hands at the same time on canvas, with his nose and with his toes too. On one occasion he painted with his tongue while riding a bike. It was a demonstration and the bike was tuned by a mechanic to run at a fixed speed.

Encouraging students

He recalls that some of the students whom he had taught the basics of painting have turned into good painters but engaged in it only as a hobby. If there is the right encouragement from the government, Kerala has the potential to produce great painters. “Otherwise, a good painter in this State will live in penury if he sticks to painting alone.”

To create good paintings a painter will have to devote his entire time for that. The situation here is not favourable for that, he says.

“To sustain a family, good painters are forced to shelve their talent and work in other areas.” Maybe, a time will come when painters in Kerala will taste better days, he said without sticking out his tongue at anybody.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2020 9:02:05 PM |

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