Voices of the street

Sunset boulevard Yusuf’s recent series is based on photographs he took of ordinary men and women on the streets of London

Sunset boulevard Yusuf’s recent series is based on photographs he took of ordinary men and women on the streets of London  

The street with its diverse layers of human behaviour has always held a fascination for Yusuf Arakkal

Bangalore-based artist, Yusuf Arakkal is among the prominent Indian artists who have been regularly exhibiting their works in different parts of the country and abroad. Yusuf’s oeuvre includes not only paintings, but also sculpture, graphics, collage and photography.

“I was formally inducted into the world of art more than forty years ago,” recalls the 62-year old Kerala born artist, who has made Bangalore his home since the early 1950s. “My first one-man show of paintings was held way back in 1975 in Bangalore. Since then, my works have been exhibited in several major cities.

My first solo show abroad was in 1992 at Relays De Monts – Siux, Limousin, France; it was followed by solos in Nepal, Singapore, New York, London, Hong Kong, and Dubai.

I have also been, for long, a participant at several international art shows, festivals and auctions. Among the highlights of my career are the awards my work won at the Third Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, Bangladesh (1986) and the Fourth and Fifth editions of Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Italy (2003 and 2005).”

Yusuf’s recent paintings dwell on the theme of The Street. Comprising more than a dozen large-sized canvases and a few watercolours, they are all set to make a mark in a far-off destination. The artist affirms that the street has always had a connection with his art. “I believe that art and life cannot be separated. I have always tried to grasp the diverse layers of human situations and experience, and where else could they be more pronounced than the street? As early as in 1984, I had painted a series of life on the pavement; one of the paintings went on to win the national award of Central Lalita Kala Academy. My subsequent work also had an intense connection with the street.”

Yusuf’s recent series is based on photographs he took of ordinary men and women on the streets of London. He acknowledges the influence of Francis Bacon’s work, particularly “Isabel Rawsthorne Standing in a Street in Soho” – a highly captivating image in which a partially hidden car, vague architectural elements, a few passers-by and glass cage seem to revolve intriguingly around the central figure. Isabel, incidentally was a famous model of her time who posed for the likes of Andre Derain and Alberto Giacometti; she was also one of the great female figures in Bacon’s life.

Yusuf’s protagonists, however, are anonymous folks. Having photographed them, he digitized the images on his personal computer before transferring them on to the canvas. This done, the artist proceeded to apply layers of paint, slowly integrating his central characters with intriguing corners and ambient atmosphere of a murky landscape.

An interesting aside to the street series was the shooting of Yusuf at work by the well-known photographer, Nemai Ghosh (whose pictures of Satyajit Ray have become legendary.) “I tried to capture both the art and the artist,” says Ghosh about his candid, monochromatic pictures. “I tried to show how Yusuf’s art reflects his character and how it also reveals his state of mind during that period (of painting).”

Yusuf Arakkal’s exhibition, ‘The Street’ opens on June 14 at Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto, California, USA and continues till July 04.

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