Monday, March 24, 2014

The Simple Things of Life

Two artists, Francis Kodakandath and Sunil Poomangalath focuses on subjects like traffic jams, paper boats, and vignettes from village life

Captions: Francis Kodakandath with a painting of Jesus Christ; 'Summer Vacation' by Sunil Poomangalath. Photos by Mithun Vinod 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2004, national award-winning artist Francis Kodakandath was assigned to do a 30-feet high painting inside a tower of the Our Lady of Dolours Basilica at Thrissur. He had done only 30 per cent of the work when the date of the inauguration when announced. Francis realised he could not complete the work on time.

One day, he worked late and feverishly. The next day, he came early to continue the work. But when he opened the door, he got a shock: the painting had been completed. “It was a miracle,” he says. “There is no explanation of how it happened.” One parishioner, a wealthy lady, got so excited by this event that she sponsored the entire cost of Rs 5 lakh.

In his ongoing exhibition, 'Art of Small Things', Francis has done a few works based on religious themes. One painting of Jesus Christ, shaped in the form of a tree, has been sold for Rs 2 lakh. Another painting called 'The First Supper' is of Jesus Christ and his disciples having dinner around a table. It looks similar to Leonardo Da Vinci's iconic 'The Last Supper', although Francis' lines are more abstract. “Jesus Christ had only three years of public life, before he was crucified,” says Francis. “That means, he had supper every night for 1095 days. I plan to a series on all these dinners.” So far, Francis has done 52.

He is also doing a series on the human heart. The one in the exhibition shows the four chambers of the heart, with good and bad blood. Francis has also drawn on the impact of traffic congestion. It shows vehicles moving in all directions and causing chaos everywhere. “There is a lack of self-discipline among the drivers,” he says.

Francis wanted to concentrate on the simple things in life. “Most of us do not pay attention to them,” he says. One painting is of the obituary pages in newspapers, with small photos and scribbled lines. But at the top right-hand corner, Francis has left it blank. “I wanted to indicate that one day the viewer will himself appear on the page, just as you and I will,” says Francis. “I wanted to put a mirror there, but felt that it would be too extreme.”

Another striking painting is called 'Application for a patent'. He has drawn a paper boat, beginning with a square piece of paper, going through various stages of folding, before it is eventually shaped like a boat. “The Americans are making patents for everything,” he says. “So even if you make a paper boat for your child, an American might come up and say, 'You cannot make this. There is a patent for this. So you need permission'.”

In his daily life, Francis works as a Customs Superintendent at Kozhikode airport. He works four days in a row, doing 12 and 24-hour shifts, and then gets three days off. “The first day I sleep it off,” he says. “Then, during the next two days, I will be painting full-time.”

Sometimes, his artistic passion has helped him in his career. Once he grew a beard, wore saffron clothes and stood next to a pharmacy and pretended to do a street painting. Thanks to a tip-off, he wanted to observe the people who were coming to the pharmacy. Soon, a group of men came, along with a pregnant woman. The moment they left, he informed the officers of the Directorate of Revenue Enforcement. They intercepted the vehicle, which was going to the airport, and 3 kgs of hashish was recovered from a basket tied around the woman's waist.

Meanwhile, participating in the exhibition, along with Francis is Sunil Poomangalath. His paintings are simple, clear, and true to life. One painting, called, 'Summer Vacation', shows a few boys swimming in the pond. A girl is plucking a flower on the bank. Another girl is walking towards the temple. Two boys are flying kites. A boy and a girl are sitting by the side of the pond, playing with paper boats, as they flirt with each other. “Nowadays, children rarely go out to play,” says Sunil. “They are in front of the computer screens or the TV. So they miss out on life. You cannot find this tranquil life in the villages also.”

Sunil focuses on rural life, because he grew up in Thiroor, a village in Trissur district. Other images include farmers taking their produce to the market on bullock carts on a mud road which cuts through paddy fields. “Today, people use tractors, and even in villages, there are no bullock carts,” says Sunil. “I wanted to evoke a sense of nostalgia.”

Sunil is self-taught. He was interested in drawing from his childhood. Today, he is a full-time artist. Six years ago, he began mixing a mural style with realistic work. As a result, his paintings have become attractive and soothing to the eye. One striking work, 'Radha-Madhav', has found a buyer. It shows the couple on a bed, flying through blue skies. “It took me two weeks to do it,” he says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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