Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Remembering India's Master Painter

A group of Kerala artistes hold an exhibition in tribute of the late M.F. Husain

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Painting of Husain by Dr. M. Sunil

When renowned painter M.F. Husain passed away in London on June 9, at the age of 95, Sasi K. Warier, the director of the Indian Art Gallery in Kochi felt that there should be a tribute. So, he gathered a group of 12 artistes, for two days, last month, to produce a series of paintings on the master. “The brief was simple,” says Warrier. “Each artist should produce a mental image or a personal memory of Husain.”

Among the 12, only P.J. James had an interaction with Husain. That was in August 2001, when Husain was invited by the Kerala State Tourism department to do a series of paintings highlighting the state’s natural and cultural assets. James was asked to assist Husain, who was staying at a five-star hotel in the city.

“Husain would do the sketches in black and instruct me to fill it in with the colours of his choice,” says James. “His style, experience and speed were astonishing. Husain could sketch a six-foot high canvas within fifteen minutes.” Apart from lissome Kerala lasses, Husain drew a lot of elephants.

So, it was no surprise that when James did a painting in tribute of Husain, he drew an acrylic on canvas with brightly-coloured elephants, with flapping ears, running around in all directions, with coconut trees placed in the background.

Sajith Puthukkalavattom had seen a photo of Husain in a local newspaper a few years ago. In that picture, Husain was sitting on the top of a series of steps, wearing goggles, a shiny black waist coat and trousers and shoes.

“I liked the showmanship of Husain in the photo,” says Sajith. “So I drew him like that, quite realistically, but I placed a long black brush resting on his upper thigh and a couple of barbed wires in front of him to indicate that he was unable to come to India.” Religious fundamentalists had vehemently protested when Husain drew Hindu goddesses in the nude, thereby putting his life at risk. Husain left India in 2006.

Balakrishnan Kadiroor has painted a running Husain, holding a long brush in his hands, but with no face. “I drew Husain without a face, to indicate that he is no more,” says Balakrishnan. “I also wanted to show that he was forced to run away from India.” Done in abstract style, on the left of the painting are two frightened eyes gazing into the future, while just below it is the Indian tricolour. Husain’s favourite motif, horses, with elongated faces, fill the other side of the painting.

Like Balakrishnan, Sasi K. Warrier also did not draw a face of Husain. Instead, he has placed footprints going from the bottom to the top of the canvas. “Husain is famous all over the world for going barefoot everywhere,” says Sasi. At the top there is the crescent of a moon, a Muslim religious symbol. “This was to give a hint that he had gone to a Muslim country,” says Sasi. Husain, as is well known, had settled down in Qatar and took that country’s citizenship in February, 2010.

Joby Ravindran has done an Impressionist painting of Husain sitting next to a dark-skinned woman, clad in a red salwar kameez, her hair covered by a white scarf. “Husain had a lot of women friends, including the actress Madhuri Dixit,” says Joby. “Without identifying anybody in particular, I wanted to show this friendship.” Meanwhile, Dr. M. Sunil has drawn a white-haired Husain in caricature mode, with an elongated nose and sitting on top of planet earth, to indicate his world class status.

The other contributors include T.N. Subodh Kumar, T.N. Raju, Dinesh Shenoy, A.A. Ajith Kumar, and P.J. Seemon. All in all, it was a remarkable look at the life of Husain through the eyes of a few talented painters in Kerala.

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