Monday, March 17, 2014

Capturing Life In All its Variety

Razi Rozario's exhibition at the Lulu Mall has attracted celebrities like Mohanlal and Siddique, and ordinary people alike

Photos by Melton Meltony

By Shevlin Sebastian

'Van Gogh,
Of late, we've come to realise
That your sunflowers were
not mere flowers,
But were poignant symbols
of the despair of rejected love.

This poem has been placed next to a painting of Van Gogh (1853-90), a Dutchman, who is regarded as one of the greats of Western painting. In the work, Van Gogh, with a blue cap, a bandage placed over his ear, looks with sombre eyes at a bunch of wilting sunflowers. This is Kochi artist Razi Rozario's reference to the fact that Van Gogh cut off a part of his left ear in a fit of madness, while sunflowers remained his signature image.

This painting is one of nine works on Van Gogh that Razi has put up in his exhibition, 'Let The Flowers Smile', at the Lulu Mall. And Razi has a specific reason for concentrating on Van Gogh. “When Van Gogh was alive, he was all but invisible to the public,” says Razi. 

“This was the case with other greats like Leonardo De Vinci and Raja Ravi Varma. Only when the artist dies is there interest in his work. There are so many talented painters today, but nobody recognises them. The Paris of Van Gogh's time is the Kerala of today.”
An artist like Razi is finding it difficult to survive. There are many who have to sell their paintings for a pittance. They will take part in a few exhibitions and then give up.

But Razi has not given up. For the past fifteen years he has been a full-time artist. “My desire has been to bring art to the masses,” he says. “Unlike music and literature, the visual arts has no base in Kerala. It remains only as a point of interest for a few people. Instead of exhibiting in galleries, I went to places where people would congregate so that I could display my art.”

So far, he has shown his work in college campuses, during church feasts, tourism fairs, shopping festivals, book fairs and at the Lulu Mall. As people step off the escalator, on the second floor, to go to PVR Cinemas, they are confronted by the paintings of Razi.

There are 65 works in total, done over a period of 18 years. Apart from Van Gogh, there are images of young girls, grandmothers, flowers, jackfruits, skies, streams, the Kaaba at Mecca, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ. Most people have liked what they have seen. In the visitor's book, Aswathy and Surya writes, “This is a reflection of the love which does not exist in today's world.” There are three notebooks filled with adulatory comments.

Razi's turning point came when, through the director Siddique, he met superstar Mohanlal, who has bought a painting, 'Creators Of The Shadow', for Rs 1 lakh. This is an image of Van Gogh, Jesus Christ and one of Russia's great authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) sitting around a candle placed on a table.

When we light a candle, there is a shadow that forms behind us,” says Razi. “Society did say that these people had created a shadow and caused darkness among the people. So they had to be crucified. Through their works, Van Gogh, Dostoyevsky and Jesus wanted to bring light to the world, but the people did not accept them when they were alive.”

Thanks to Mohanlal's purchase, 47 people have also paid Rs 1 lakh to buy various paintings. They include Siddique, director Anwar Rasheed, actor Salim Kumar, gallery own Asif Komu, businessman Jiju Ramakrishnan and Class 7 student Marwan Munavvar, who, interestingly, owns a work called 'Stubborn Child'.

Razi draws from his experiences,” says Asif Komu. “There is a story behind each painting. And that is why people are drawn to his work.”

Razi has promised to sell the purchased paintings for Rs 2 lakh, by holding 12 exhibitions in India and 12 abroad, including Germany, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. He will share a part of the profits with the owners.

Razi's works are mostly oil on canvas. But he does not use a brush. Instead, he prefers a small knife. For a few days he will mentally visualise what he is going to draw. Then one day, he will get up early and start work. “I have to finish it in a day, otherwise, the oil will become dry,” he says. All his works are stored at the Rosario Art Gallery which he has opened in Aluva.

A tenacious Razi is carrying on, because of a simple reason. “Art is my life. There is nothing else I want to do,” says the artist, who is supported by his wife, Rakhi, who works as a sub-editor in a leading Malayalam magazine. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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