Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The seductive beauty of innocence: K.Muralidharan's new paintings | Article published in the Times of India

The article can be accessed online  at the Times of India epaper site on page 6

Andal by K. Muralidharan 

The seductive beauty of innocence:  K.Muralidharan’s new paintings

by M.D.Muthukumaraswamy

      Inside the tranquil Besant Nagar home studio of K.Muralidharan, his new modernist painting of the Vaishnavite poetess Andal startles you with its alluring beauty of a folk art.  On a closer look at the familiar features of Andal- the side hair bun, the parrot and the flower garland- you become aware of the rich texture of the painting. The armored body of Andal in geometrical shapes of black and white etches her body slightly forward against the lyricism of the Tamil alphabets in which Tiruppavai is written as if the canvas were a stone of inscriptions. The helplessness of her slender hands matches the dreamy big eyes and the mysterious half smile hidden behind her lips.   Masked in crimson a large peacock, miniature of a reclining Vishnu, Garuda, and numerous little creatures divine and natural share their colour with the flower in Andal’s hand. When you realize that behind the painting’s charm there lies a mastery of portraiture you begin to wonder whether the semblance of his works to folk arts is only a pretense. Muralidharan says in one his exhibition brochures, “ I wouldn’t call mine folk art, and it would be more appropriate to call it naïve art”.  The goddess Meenakshi painting shares several of the stylistic features of Andal but it appears to be more fantastic with Meenakshi’s wild Medusa like hairs, and the hands making the magical appearance from the masked universe of the crimson background.  Comparing the paintings of Andal and Meenakshi one would  discern that what Muralidharan calls his naiveté is actually an innocence with which he approaches his subjects, the popular images of religious folklore.

      Muralidharan’s present sets of paintings are in fact culmination of his long creative journey as a painter. In his very early works, immediately after his graduation from the college of arts and crafts in the late 1970s one can see his tendencies towards creating involved portraits and surfaces with rich textures. Muralidharan says that his shift in the choice of themes occurred in the mid 1980s when he was visiting Hampi. Sitting in the delicious ruins of Hampi, Muralidharan decided that the conversation between conservation of tradition and chronicle of change would be integral to his paintings. He found the inventory of his fantasies in his immediate environment and neighborhoods: the elephants of Thiruvallikeni temple, the qualities of the graphics of the Tamil alphabets, the idea that goddesses could be sitting on lotuses while  cows are wandering in the busy streets, and animals, birds, and humans coexist on the same plane. In Muralidharan’s paintings of the 1990s we see his impressionist portrayals of gods, goddesses, and elephants on flat surfaces that lend a surreal and dreamy qualities to his paintings. As years pass by Murlaidharan grows more innocent in his approach and in his paintings at the time of the turn of the millennium we see his works approximating popular imagination and providing us a chance to examine our traditional images. In Muralidhran’s paintings there is a grammar of patterning but the free visualization that defies logic, invites us to approach popular images and their associated cultural memories –Andal being a case in point- impressionistically, unconsciously and innocently to make them our own. Every decade seems to have added a layer of meaning and elegance to Muralidharan’s paintings and his accumulated learning is evident in his new paintings.

      The artistic achievement of Muralidharan’s present set of paintings is spectacular not only for himself but also for his methodological inheritance from the Madras school of art which set out to discover our cultural roots and their modernist expressions. Muralidharan’s folkloric motifs, and the images of popular religious folklore such as goddess Lakshmi, and Saraswati do not abandon the traditional decorative patterning but they reinvent them and reposition them. Another characteristic of Muralidharan’s paintings is that he does a series of paintings on the same subject. Whether it is an elephant or a Kamadhenu, Muralidharan presents a set of variations on the same theme, accentuating the play on our unconscious perceptions of them. Muralidharan’s paintings on the same theme present reconfigurations of familiar motifs resembling children’s play in its vivaciousness and virtuousness resulting in compositions of bright unconventional colours.   Muralidharan says, “ I also learnt that I must continue to evolve, continue to experiment, if I should be relevant and meaningful to the society, I live in. To me artistic achievement, success and being different is not a fixed point from where you can talk down to people. It is a state of flux and I am part of it”.  The good news is that K.Muralidharan’s Andal is a masterpiece.


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