A fresh, new look

A COMPLETE holiday package to a resort at a scenic spot with an easel and canvas thrown in is an offer hard to resist for any artist. The rudiments of the current suite of paintings titled the Krishna series can be traced to a luxurious hotel setting in Pondicherry where Babu Xavier was holidaying recently. Amidst a group of friends, the well-known artist couldn't help but absorb the celebratory mood. And away from his personal studio and his own accessories, Xavier was in a sense forced to keep his canvas simple.

Happily what emerged was an unusual pictorial landscape, suffused with a joie de vivre; a play with colours and most of all an innocent play with mythology. As his protagonist stretches on the hump of a cow, or sits on the edge of a cliff, the artist lends freshness to the oft-told story of Krishna, believing as he does that it was never meant to be an intellectual drama. In an instant the invincible God is reduced in stature to a mundane human being, literally brought down to Mother Earth and made to experience an entire gamut of emotions; be it the melancholy at losing his flute or the delight at retrieving it. In fact this motif runs through his works, worked in a number of variations; with Krishna chasing the elusive flute which at times flies off into the blue skies and at other gushes down a waterfall, leaving the pursuer helpless and indeed feeble.

Besides the theme which is so crisp and inventive, the first stirrings come from the unique, playful titles that he gives to his pictures; Flying Away Flute, Krishna with Lost Flute to name two. To an artist for whom the only texts that accompanied his works were the date and time of the painting, this change is a delight. Titling his current series was a spontaneous decision, for the fun of it. At another level, the labels immediately connect the viewer to the artist's sense of humour and satire, where from begins a joyful journey in interpreting this work cycle. Even as he doesn't deny the reality of global art, Xavier is content to be recognised as a Kerala painter "but not one of those tourist types of painters drawing snake boats etc". It's important for him to develop his own weapon, to resist this challenge as well as to use it to his own advantage, he says. Even as he is rooted here and his themes are largely Indian, their treatment is marked by ingenuity, which makes them a feast for the eyes.

Unfettered by rules and boring academia these small frames are compact, intense, and buoyant with an inbuilt balance. As the series develops, the painterly dimension comes to the fore, adding a rare romanticism to his style. Babu Xavier's works can be viewed on the walls of Kashi Art Caf� where they are on display till 29 December .