Sreeja Pillai's exhibition has featured different artistic styles, but all have been done on small stones
Photos: Sreeja Pillai by Mithun Vinod; stone paintings
By Shevlin Sebastian
Artist Sreeja Pillai was doing some research for a book on the history of art when she realised that, in ancient times, before the advent of canvas, people did paintings on stone.
“They would capture their day-to-day life on rocks, and on the walls of caves,” she says. “Sometimes, they would use the blood of animals or use different types of mud. The origin of painting is stone. So I decided I would go back to the beginning.”
So Sreeja began collecting stones from the bottom of lakes, ponds and rivers near her home in Thrissur. “It was not easy,” she says. “I also arranged for stones to be sent to me from Kozhikode, as well as Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry."
The stones varied in size, from 3 1/2 inches to 9” long. They were in different shapes: round, oblong, egg-shaped, and square. But when Sreeja started work, she realised that it would take a long time. “That's because I was doing miniature paintings,” she says.
In her daily life, Sreeja is a drawing teacher at the Harisree Vidyanidhi school. So, she usually started work, on her paintings, only at 9 p.m., after her eleven-year-old son had gone to sleep. And she worked late into the night.
But Sreeja has been following a specific plan. She would take one style each from the twenty-plus states in India. “In Kerala, the most traditional art form has been the mural painting,” she says. “So I have done works in that style.” She has also done Santhal, Assamese, Bhil, Deccani, Kalamkari, Worli Rajasthani, and Gond styles.
“The Gond paintings of Madhya Pradesh usually have animals as their subjects,” says Sreeja.
After she completed 130 paintings, she held an exhibition recently at the Kerala Lalitkala Akademi in Thrissur called 'Luminous-4'.
“The presentation is very important,” says Sreeja. So, the stones have been placed against blue, green, red, saffron and pink cloth on a specially-designed wooden stand. Before each stone is the name of the painting and the state from which it has originated. One section was focused on the faces of members belonging to various tribes. “It was only after doing the paintings that I realised the immensely rich heritage of India,” she says.
Meanwhile, those who saw the exhibition liked it. Says Kochi-based artist PR Unnikrishnan: “Sreeja's work is different, as compared to other artists. She is carrying on a 6000-year-old tradition of stone art. Sreeja has done a lot of research and that is reflected in her works. It is a commendable effort.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)