At his recent exhibition, artist Girish Kalleli has focused on how spiritual enlightenment can change the human face
By Shevlin Sebastian
Now and then, the artist Girish Kalleli would meet up with his neighbour Raghu at his hometown of Muvattupuzha. The latter is an anchor on a local TV channel. He writes skits and enacts it. But he is also facing some personal troubles.
One day Girish got an idea. He would do a painting of Raghu. So he called
him to his house, drew an outline on a piece of paper and took a photograph. Then Raghu left. Girish was planning a solo exhibition and was wondering about the theme.
After a few days, he got an unusual idea. He would showcase some of the people in his area but would give them a spiritual look. “In other words, I wanted to imagine how they would look if they became spiritually enlightened,” says Girish.
So, he drew Raghu with a pompadour hairstyle. There are small white flowers in the hair. The eyes are a striking blue-green. The ends of the moustache meet the beard through two thin lines. There is a small tuft of hair below the lower lip. On the left ear is an earring. The background of the work consists of tiny leaves.
“Raghu is a dynamic person, with lots of energy,” says Girish. “He has gone through difficult times but now things are getting better. I wanted to show his strength.”
Girish’s next subject is a labourer, Pritam. “I found him interesting because he greets everybody the same way, whether rich or poor,” says Girish. “He is also honest and straight-forward.” Pritam, like Raghu, has a thick black beard and large piercing eyes. He is wearing a green banian along with a necklace which has a small amulet. Pritam’s maroon towel has been folded to make a turban. And on his head, Girish has drawn roots going all the way down to his shoulder. The background consists of several small fishes. “Pritam is rooted to the soil,” says Girish. “And whenever he has some spare time, he goes to the river and does fishing.”
Another portrait, all mixed medium on paper, is of Girish’s eight-year-old daughter Arya. But she looks much older, almost as if she is in her early twenties, looking straight ahead, with thick hair and a bindi in the middle of her forehead. “My daughter is much more mature than her years and very confident,” says Girish. “I feel there is an older person inside her. Arya looks after her younger brother in the same way my wife looks after him.”
Others who have been portrayed include Gireesh’s wife, a local temple priest and a youth. All these portraits were on show in Girish’s first solo exhibition, ‘Lifetraits’, which was held a few days ago at the Durbar Hall, Kochi.
During the time he worked on these images, he realised that everybody has a mask.
“We wear them at home, in the workplace, in front of our spouses, relatives, parents and children,” says Girish. “Where is the real Girish is the question I ask myself. This is the case with all the portraits. Where is the real Raghu? Or Pritam? No matter how close we are to people, we will not be able to know their innermost selves. In a way, we are actors in a drama. We have been trained to behave like this from childhood.”
A full-time artist, Girish owns a paddy field and a few cows. So, it is no surprise that the only animal that has been featured in his show is a cow. “I would see this cow in the town,” he says. “It seemed to me that it was not happy because it had not been treated well.” The cow that he has drawn has deeply soulful eyes, which seem to have seen a lot of suffering. It is an eye-catching work, so it came as no surprise that a visitor had bought it following the conclusion of the show.
“Yes, thankfully, a few works did get sold,” says Girish, with a smile.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)