Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A keen response to life

C.R. Manmadhan’s maiden exhibition catches the eye with striking paintings, photographs and digital art

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 'Suryanelli', an acrylic painting by C.R. Manmadhan, there is a young girl on her knees, staring into the future with fearful eyes. To one side, there is a large vulture, on the ground, gazing at her malevolently.

Up in the sky, there are vultures flying about, waiting to see whether they can also have a go at the prey. On the right of the girl is a column of butterflies.

"When I read about the Suryanelli sex scandal it affected me deeply," says Manmadhan. (In that incident, an adolescent girl fell in love, was kidnapped, and raped repeatedly by 42 men, which included politicians, lawyers and businessmen.)

"When she falls in love, she offers herself to the man," he says. "That is why she is on her knees. Her mind is full of romantic dreams, hence the butterflies, but the reality is that many men, represented by the vultures, are ready to exploit her."

Manmadhan is an adept social commentator. In his 'Memories of Kindergarten', he shows a girl with tears rolling down her face. Just next to her is a skull and below that is a shouting parent.

"Children today are scared of people in authority, be it teachers or principals," he says. "I have represented it with a skull." A mirror placed in the picture is an invitation for the viewer to look in and at themselves.

In 'Hide and Seek', done in a striking green, there is a face of a man, with shifty eyes, and a long beard. Just above him, representing his mind, in surreal style, there is a woman, with her back to the viewer.

"I did this after the fake godman Santosh Madhavan’s case came to light," he says. "It seems that these days clerics are less focused on God and more on money and sex. The episode remained in my mind and, months later, the subconscious produced this image."

Apart from paintings, there are numerous photographs of landscapes and people. A picture of the tea gardens of Munnar, taken from a height, shows a meandering road going through a sea of green leaves. There is a twilight shot of Fort Kochi, called 'Cool Blue' with a sliver of the moon visible high up in the sky. The soothing blue seeps across the photograph.

This tranquil colour is also evident in a photograph on the returning fishing boats in Rameshwaram, called 'Getting Home'. There is a striking photo of an aged nomadic woman in a colourful costume, and a man blowing a horn outside the temple at Hampi.

"The key to a good photograph is to take it spontaneously," he says. "I want to catch life as it happens."

Manmadhan retired as the News Editor of the Mathroobhumi newspaper a couple of years ago and turned his attention to painting. "I already had a knack from childhood," he says. He remembers with gratefulness his drawing teacher, Gopalakrishnan, at Nooranad village, in Mavelikara, who constantly encouraged him.

“Sir would give me special classes,” he says. “During the vacation he would ask me to buy several drawing books. Then Sir would do several half complete sketches and ask me to finish them. In this way, I learnt symmetry, perspective and balance.”

His journalism gave him little time to devote to art. But now, he is focused on his artistic career. And like most late bloomers, he has taken the help of the Internet.

"If I have any doubts I can always get the answer from the Net," he says. "It is a great boon. On You Tube there are lessons on how to do a painting. I can see the works of great painters and get encouraged. Picasso's Cubism period has been the inspiration behind my painting, 'Happy Home'."

Apart from paintings and photographs, Manmadhan also does digital art, which is also on display. "I usually do the creative changes to the photograph, using the Photoshop software," he says.

Asked about his philosophy of life, he says, "I want peace in the world. I want people of different views to live together amiably. My paintings are like that. I don't stick to a particular subject or style. I like to be free."

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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