Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Portraits of Artists in Bangalore: The Journey 6

Mahesh Kummar, Shibu Natesan, Latah Kurien, Johny ML
This is an interim chapter in a possibly never ending travelogue. It is not necessary that I travel from one place to another; I could be stable at one place and could see the world pass by or even let people come to me. When they come, they bring a different world to me. When I sit in a religious shrine my meditation is also on people and the possibilities of the stories that they are carrying with them. The other day I was sitting with artist Anil Janardanan at Ramana ashram in Thiruvannamalai where he had come to attend the Shivarathri festivals. A middle aged couple passed by us. Anil said he could see two huge wings on her shoulders almost touching on the floor that made her incapable of flying away. Soon he added that her husband was a gentleman happy with what he had got as dowry along with the bride. Perhaps he wanted to ask for more but he was afraid of his father-in-law. We laughed enjoying the story thoroughly. If one could come up with such flights of fancies what could really be their own stories! 

In Bangalore I meet a few friends and suddenly I feel that they are mobile and I am stable for they have come from different places and are going to different places soon. But I know their stories partially; I want to recount them briefly and feel how much I remember not only the stories but also the people around whom those small anecdotes are built.
N S Harsha

N.S.Harsha: When I met him first he was painting some expressionistic organic interiors and the large canvases looked ambitious for a student in early 1990s in Baroda. Harsha had a backache; his grandparents and parents had asked him to write certain chants repeatedly in order to alleviate himself from the pain. He had shown me some of his chat inscriptions. It seems to have persisted in his works even in his matured period as an artist. Everything came in multiples; sleeping men, eating men, married couples, sewing machines, flags and what not. Harsha paints intricate patterns that resemble the intricate network of underground roots or the branches of innumerable celestial trees that grow dreams. In Bangalore Harsha has just come from Tokyo. He went straight away to the CKP students. He tells me he is suffering from jet lag.

Anilkumar HA
Anilkumar HA: I don't remember when did I meet him first. But I remember him writing in the magazines that I used to edit. The market was booming, artists were making art, galleries were mushrooming, new designations were being created in the art field and along with all these art critics were writing. New art writers were coming up everyday; like a magical picture that looked different from different angles art writer's were becoming curators, gallerists, consultants and party animals. A few in the tribe stood firmly closer to the ethics of art history and criticism. Anilkumar was one. A crusader for vernacular art history and criticism he has also translated certain seminal texts like 'ways of seeing' in Kannada. Anilkumar likes to pep up his articles with quotes and footnotes. As it is CKP rule he too has served as the principal of the art institute. He makes a graphic journal about the city of Bangalore in his leisure time. I see him this time in black shirt and jeans, with a notepad in hand he runs around conducting the illustrated lecture sessions smoothly. He is a smooth talker. 

Latha Kurien
Latha Kurien: Enthusiasm incarnated, that's how I qualify Latha. With formal education in art history from Santiniketan she is someone who did not practice art history or criticism and only worked everything around it. Latha does not visit places; she just happens. With a special ability not only to make friends but also to maintain them pleasantly Latha is welcomed wherever she goes. She established an art cafe and an art gallery in Trivandrum. She had a funny landlord in her gallery who did not allow the gallery visitors park their cars anywhere near his home which was in fact the adjacent courtyard. Like a giant miser he came out often shooing away the visitors till either the lease expired or Latha's patience. With Rajeev Kumar, one of the talented film directors as her husband Latha has dabbled in film making not only as a producer but also a maker of her own short films. I have written a script for her which is yet to materialise. In Bangalore she is a familiar presence for she not only knows the artists but also the city like her palm for she had spent her school days here. By surprising all of us she eats a chocolate ice cream while rest of us drink tea. When you see her next time Latha will be enthusiastically working on something without bothering much about the outcome.

Manjunath Kamath

Manjunath Kamath: I remember meeting Manju (I call him so while rest of the world calls him Kamath) at the foyer of Delhi Lalit Kala Academy sometime in mid-1990s. He had come back from London or some place. I had heard about him from other friends who worked for newspapers as graphic artists. Manju with good graphics skills was also working in one of the major newspapers. We glanced at each other but did not say hello as we never had been introduced formally by anybody. Then I saw his work; the video art was the latest in Delhi and Manju's was a video art piece. He was inside a tele screen reclining on a pillow, sleeping and winking once in a while at the viewer. This image later he used in several of his paintings. Slowly we became friends. I started liking his quirky paintings and personality. His style was imitated by many after the mediatic realism style. He makes sculptures and graphic art. He has trained two fine designers in his studio; Sarath Nayak and Krishna Nayak. Perhaps Indian video art from Delhi owes a lot to Sarath and Manju's then studio at Hauz Khas. One day Manju did a quirky series with a tonsured portrait of mine. He turned me into a lascivious monk in the company of sensuous men and women. Manju's studio in Delhi fed me with tea and art stories. In Bangalore Manju is at a canvas. He tells me that he has made more clouds than images but he is going to make a different work for the museum. And his laughter and warmth has not reduced a bit though it has been long that I visited him in his studio.

T V Santhosh
T.V.Santhosh: I met him in 1994 when Santhosh came to Baroda to pursue masters in sculpture. By that time he had already spent around ten years in various art institutions including Thrissur fine arts college and Santiniketan. Santhosh started off as a cultural activist in his native place often helping the left activists make placards and hoardings. He did a few street theatres before going into full time art studentship. Throughout the student period and later in his matured period too, in his own admission he has been oscillating between hardcore leftism and strongly felt spiritualism. Looking at his oeuvre so far one could say for sure that the social commitment of art informed by the leftist ideology has taken over his spiritual inclinations. Santhosh had felt this oscillation exhilarating but today he finds it cumbersome. It is high time that he settles down in a different zone of art making or setting himself free from all those ideological commitments. In Bangalore when I attend his illustrated lecture surprisingly he comes off as a very eloquent person contrary to the popular image of him being a shy and reticent artist. The commotion in his mind as well as in his works is palpable. There are full of terrorists and revolutionaries in his works. Life and death play chess in them. He speaks of animal and human suicide bombers. He switched from one medium to another. Then finally one asks why this calm and contained artist seems to be so agitated in his works. Santhosh too seems to have realised it. I am sure he is on the path of a total makeover.

Sujith SN

Sujith SN: Before major galleries had picked him up, in mid 2000s I had seen this young artist making good paintings along with his peer group artists namely Sujith Sudhakar, Anil Thambai, Reji Arakkal and so on. Then the market boom happened. Sujith shifted to Mumbai where he found success through various private galleries. He paints misty landscapes and city scapes. He thinks about unfinished languages and visual images. Vast landscapes come repeatedly with huge buildings at the horizon line. There is something mysterious about his works. Sujith used to be a lover of wine. He goes ballistic when he drinks. A gentle guy becomes a little monster. But in Bangalore I see a mature Sujith. He tells me that his child has started attending play school. I feel happy about Sujith. He had done a lot of works by now and some selections from it he shares with us. His eyes, I notice, are red. Why is it so, I wonder.

Mahesh Kummar
Mahesh Kummar: I first met Mahesh in Facebook. Then in Pune Biennale in 2015. He came specially to meet me. He too was a participant in one of the shows in Pune Biennale. He said he was blessed by my presence. He lives in Bangalore and he likes to meet me whenever I am in Bangalore. His liking for me is so great that he started wearing a Rudraksha when I was wearing one. His wife, Maitri and son Ricky are very fond of me. One thing they don't like in me is my influence on Mahesh. Thinking that my Rudraksha practice might have made me stop eating non-veg Mahesh stopped eating non-veg and even stopped drinking beer. One day they invited us to his home in Yelahanka. It was a year back and upon seeing me eating non-veg and drinking beer Mahesh was scandalised. But his decision is strong. He remains a staunch vegetarian. Mahesh is a self taught artist with a great skill. He used to paint typical Indian romantic portraits, festival seasons and landscapes. Now he does a different kind of painting as he teaches himself of various contemporary concepts and techniques. Mahesh is a great friend whom you could rely on for help. Whenever I visit Bangalore Mahesh comes to meet me. Now he has a special edition Maruti Swift Decca in which he gives me a ride. Recently he humbled me: he sent me a message saying that he had sent me some money. I asked why and what for. He said he sold a painting and that he believed because of my blessings. I accepted the money not because I have fancies about my blessing power but because Mahesh's belief in me and his ability to give. If I wouldn't have shown my ability to accept he would have been sad. I don't want anybody sad in the world. Now Mahesh is on his way to his solo exhibition which I have told him to conduct only in 2018 end or 2019 beginning.

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