Thursday, October 27, 2011

Modern man in search of his soul

Painter Sidharthan takes simple motifs from life to make a comment on society at large

Photos: 'Beyond the iron grill'; 'From us to me'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In mid-2008, Sidharthan attended a camp of painters at Gokarna, 450 kms from Bangalore. The environment was inspiring for the Kochi-based painter. “There were palm and coconut trees,” he says. “A constant sea breeze was blowing, because of the many beaches there. I was able to interact with artistes from all over India. It was very inspiring.”

When he returned, Sidharthan started work on a 4 x 4 ft. canvas. And he began with an image of those date palms which he placed on the edge of a mountain top. Behind them, there is a black iron railing, which is resting on a wall, which has small concrete chips embedded on it.

Straight ahead, there is a black sky, with tufts of white clouds. It is a forbidding sight. But as he worked, Sidharthan realised he needed a larger area. So, he placed two canvases side by side and the end result is a 7ft. x 5ft. painting, titled, 'Beyond the Iron Grill', which dominates one wall of the gallery.

“I wanted to dwell on the borders between people, cultures, and countries,” says Sidharthan. “The sky represents a whole new world beyond the borders, but we tend to misunderstand the people on the other side. This unwillingness to empathise is probably the reason why so many wars have taken place throughout history.” Not surprisingly, this work enabled Sidharthan to win the Lalitkala Akademi state award for best painting in 2008.

Sidharthan, like a true artist, is a reflective type. In a painting, 'From us to me', there is an empty bed, with a small pillow, set beside an open window. Outside the curtained window, birds, in white shapes, are flying about.

“This is a bed in my house where I lie down often and think about life,” he says. “All of us are self-absorbed. We think only about 'my wife, my children, and my family'. We seem unable to look at the wider world beyond the windows of our house.”

In another work, there is an Outside Broadcast (OB) van of a television company at one side, the circular satellite dish sticking out from the top of the van. In an unusual juxtaposition, there is a girl, wearing a salwar kameez, who is pushing a shopping trolley.

“The OB van indicates how prevalent television is in our lives,” he says. “The most intimate details of a person's life are being broadcast. There is no privacy anymore.”

As for the shopping girl, Sidharthan says, “Nowadays, there is a shopping craze. This is done mostly in malls now, unlike earlier generations, when people would go to the local shop in the village to buy essentials. There would be a familiar and friendly relationship between the shop-keeper and the customers. But now when you buy items in a mall, there is hardly any interaction with the employees. I wanted to show the effect of globalisation: a pervasive TV culture and non-stop consumerism.”

Sidharthan is unusual in that, apart from being an artist, he also teaches painting at the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts at Tripunithara.

“It is rare for teachers to be painters themselves,” he says. “But I gain new ideas and youthful energy from my interaction with the students. And as a painter, I keep up to date with the latest national and international art movements, and pass this on to my students.”

Sidharthan's fourth-year student, A.R. Anagha, says, “In the exhibition, Sir takes simple motifs and uses them effectively to reveal the problems in society.”

Every morning, Sidharthan gets up at 6 a.m., and works non-stop for three hours before he sets out to the college. In this solo exhibition, his seventh so far, he has produced 12 paintings, out of an output of around 50 over a four-year period.

“My life is my art,” he says. “And I am consumed by it.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)