Tracing travails of city life

THE CHENNAI metropolis has undergone enormous changes. Historically acclaimed for its temples, music, dance festivals, quaint local architecture and colonial structures, Chennai, which has expanded at a monstrous pace, has been captured by the city-based artist A. V. Ilango in his works, which are on show at Forum Art Gallery, Adyar, till December 23. The exhibition titled `Chennai Series' is being jointly organised by the British Council and the Association of British Scholars, India.

Interesting to note in this series of paintings, [paper with acrylics] is the urbanscape that is on decline. The civic authorities lackadaisical and callous attitude in maintaining the infrastructure comes through forcibly.

Ilango by exaggeration and distortions of mechanical screaming forms in all shapes and sizes confronts the viewer's sensibilities. This as a matter of fact is the artist's experience of driving everyday from his home in Valsarvakkam to his work place. The paintings, though they grate on the senses, are a visual statement of the travails of a city life with its accompanying comforts and glamour. These works are those of an observer not from the periphery but from within thus making them sensitive in their response.

Ilango who has been in the painting profession for more than 20 years has based his works on sharp perceptual experiences. He has neither taken recourse to myths, signs, symbols or narrative storytelling to be his subject nor brought depth of semantics into his works. Rather the life around abounding with rich material, which he has judiciously explored. His adolescence spent in the home town of Gobichettipalayam has memories of his playful swims in the streams, watching the local festivals with its colours and sounds, the bull fights, the charming rhythmic dancers, and the romantic rural ambience. These indelible impressions he retains, and as a cross over artist, from rural to urban milieu, allows with easy facility to draw upon the repertoire of the rural life. Though not professionally trained, the artist within him is a divine gift, which he has worked through meticulously and laboriously.

Tracing travails of city life

In the present series, he has chosen a living subject to portray, namely the urban life, within the matrix of which he is located. Says Ilango, "the auto rickshaw is an urban folk equivalent of the color yellow". He has rendered this ubiquitous phenomenon with a tinge of humour as they dawdle on the pothole-ridden Chennai roads and streets. The water tankers loom menacingly, the public transport carrying the human cargo splits at its seams as they spill out and hang precariously. The fish cart vendors' drive recklessly without brakes, attracting crows that attempt to forage with greedy glee. The cycle rickshaws strenuously vend their way through crowded bylanes, jostling with humanity, the bovines, the two wheelers and three wheelers. ("Saidapet Market"). Despite the chaos and pollution, Ilango gives vignettes of flourishing trade as the tea vendor in "Virugambakkam Junction".

Ilango in his composition is acutely sensitive to space, either rectangle or square, and this conditions and dictates the entire formulation of the painting. To create movement, he employs the swastika or the yin and yang symbols working through them to create the pulsating rhythm. Though he employs these dynamic signs for potential movement, there is an inherent static quality in his works. Confronting his paper or canvas, he has the entire composition laid out in his imagination and he works with perfect mastery as forms concretise, remaining conscious to his imagery and simultaneously in control of space. In other words, his space controls the idea and eventually dictates the entire form of the composition. His colours are muted and deploy the brilliant yellow or red to offset his compositions.

Ilango carries his cultural baggage with enormous ease as it manifests in this series. The stylised female and male forms are echoes of folk idiom that had coloured his earlier series. This preoccupation with the substratum of culture is deeply ingrained within his conscience, and today has become his signature style. It is this aura of na�ve and stark simplicity blended judiciously with local colours that impart a sense of earthiness to his compositions. Unfailingly Ilango's preoccupation is with formal qualities of line, forms, space, texture and colours making him consanguineous with the other artists of the region.

The varied compositional devices that he privileges in his works nevertheless allow him a personalised portrayal, sometimes bearing affinity, for example of the lone "Cycle Rickshaw", to Van Gogh's "Shoes". There seems to be an inherent turmoil within the artist that explicitly comes through in his conscious distortion and exaggeration, the sharp perspective angles and particularly the monochrome painting, "Crossing The Road", that validates the fears as expressed through the title. Is it his shedding of the `professor' status, which leaves him vulnerable to his only profession of painting for greater security? The exhibition is interesting in its versatility of subject, acute observation and commonsense technique — a blend of brush and the palette knife allowing the viewer to leave the gallery with a feeling that the artist complements his views of the metropolis.


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