Shades of fantasy

Signature works:Adoor Gopalakrishnan and C.N. Karunakaran take a look at the painting ‘Turquoise Festival.’

Signature works:Adoor Gopalakrishnan and C.N. Karunakaran take a look at the painting ‘Turquoise Festival.’   | Photo Credit: Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

‘Heaven on Earth,’ C.N. Karunakaran’s latest collection, is true to his style of imagery and colours.

C.N. Karunakaran’s paintings create a harmonious fantasy world in pleasing hues that seem to blend and flow. The colours soothe while the figures – flying, floating and stationary, tease the imagination, giving rise to narratives within narratives. Each canvas seems to encapsulate a story – some in languorous images, some in hectic activities. But all his paintings have two things in common – women and the motif of a tree.

“That is in keeping with Indian traditions and sensibilities,” says the artist who is also Chairman of the Lalitakala Akademi of Kerala. “Representations of women have always dominated our visual aesthetics and the female form, so flowing and flexible, lends itself to many interpretations,” says the artist.

His latest collection of works, 37 in all, called ‘Heaven on Earth,’ was unveiled at ART Smart, Thiruvananthapuram. Done in acrylics, all the paintings bear his distinctive use of strokes, colours and forms. As Adoor Gopalakrishnan said: “A Karunakaran painting bears the stamp of the artist and can never be mistaken or confused with the work of another artist.”

A style that has been perfected by the artist over the last 30 years. “All of us were schooled in the European style of painting. But, over the years, the effort has been to evolve a style of our own that derives inspiration from Indian aesthetics,” explains the artist who has a diploma in design from the Government School of Arts and Craft, Chennai.

This search of the artist is reflected in his use of medium, colours, space and forms.

“Till Ravi Varma popularised oils, most of our paintings were done in colours derived from nature, in tempera or in water colours. Unfortunately, oil is not suited to our humid climate. Works in oil are subject to fungal attacks and the colours change over time. I feel that acrylics are the best for our climate,” explains Karunakaran.

Influenced by Jain art

He adds that his work has been influenced by his study of Indian art, specifically Jain art and the illustration of Jataka tales. “This influence is clear in my use of colours in patches and panels. Moreover, my paintings do not evolve on the canvas. I have a blueprint in my mind when I start and like a thachan (craftsman) I work on canvas to give shape to my blueprint. Each colour, area and figure has already been mapped out in my mind and I merely reproduce that on the canvas,” says the artist.

This style is evident in his series ‘Heaven on Earth,’ which transports viewers to his dream-like space.

“None of my works is realistic. My impressions of what I see around have been transferred to the canvas; naturally it has gone thorough a process of evolution in my mind and so it will be coloured and shaped by my experiences and thoughts,” reveals the artist, giving us a glimpse of the creative process that finds expression on canvas.

Three of the works in the series have been painted on two canvases, as if the artist found it difficult to contain his ideas on one canvas. “The readymade canvases come in certain sizes and to paint something bigger, one has to resort to such techniques,” says the artist.

Although Karunakaran brushes it off with his characteristic modesty, the painstaking efforts to meld the two canvases without a break in his stroke or shade of paint used is clear even to the untrained eye. So ‘The Village’ unfolds hectic activities in shades of red and beige and shows men and women at work while ‘Turquoise Festival’ and ‘Ruby World’ have a more languid pace.

The exhibition will conclude on May 24.


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