THE ILLUSTRATION ART OF KERALA

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Dr.Soman Kadaloor

Achived his doctorate degree by researching On the art works of Chans

KERALEEYA RAKHA CHITHRANA KALA. Malayalam Art Study

Publishers insight books, Kozhikode-  Kerala- India

In illustration art, Chandrashekharan is a descendant of A.S. and Namboothiri. By the end of 1970s, his works started appearing under the pseudonym ‘Chans’ in Deshabhimani weekly. Though there are similarities that he shares with A.S., Chandrashekharan’s illustrations are original and profound. He has assimilated the gliding movement of Namboothiri’s lines and A.S.’s deliberate distortion of formal structures. Though nimble, his strokes paints a robust aesthetic canvas. It has been observed that his pictorial universe is characterized by bold and definitive strokes. Like a writer who’s never unsure of his words, Chandrashekharan’s brush does not hesitate (Vijayan: 1998:99)

His specialty stems from the depth of his personal style combined with the versatile quality of classical technique. This style is both authentic and liberated. When he is at work, illustration becomes an expressive art and the rhythm produced by the visual language of his illustrations shores up and enriches the emotional realm of the work. By freeing the art of all its embellishments, he illuminates the illustration art of Kerala. 

The source of an artist’s contentment lies in the search for novel creative pathways. Chandrashekharan did not merely reproduce a conventional variety of illustration. This visual artist looked for refreshing new ways and got the medium to experiment. Through the use of novel symbols rather than dwelling too much on central ideas, Illustration art reinvents itself here by developing a visual language that animates the experience of the internal world. He strove to get inside the head of the literary universe to unearth its essence and attempted to evolve a visual language based on that awareness. His illustrations exemplify a reality that is a step away from the real. M.N. Vijayan’s observation pertaining to the primacy once enjoyed by the Davichian idea that the painter should recreate what the mirror beholds has at one point exploded and made way for the understanding that artistic practice involves discovering a new discovery of the world all the time, which befits Chandrashekharan’s art. This artist allowed himself to experiment with each one of his works and constantly innovated with the form. Regardless of how good the idea is, illustration art will fall short if the presentation is stale. Chandrashekharan’s strength lies in his excellent presentation skills. He strives to transform the sensations absorbed from the texts into rich imagery. That’s why his visual language is not intended as adornments. In order to be precise about the transfer of ideas through visualization, Chandrashekharan goes easy on the emotional content driving his technique. This artist thus captures the diversity of life inherent in the text with straight and effortless strokes. 

In Chandrashekharan’s visuals, the appreciation of the text morphs into internal reality. Through the communion between the visual sphere and the conscious self of the reader, this internal reality turns into aesthetic pleasure. Thus, he manages to reach out to such depths, digs out truths that escapes the reader and imbues the illustrations with the text’s luminosity. It isn’t simply deft artistry or expertise in the painterly medium that distinguishes his work, it has also to do with his expressive commitment to truth. 

It is indeed an accomplishment that his quest to tap into the mental state of the characters did not end at that but led to visual representation of internal life. One experiences empathy with his representation of the sad and introverted. His pictorial universe evokes compassion peopled by society’s underdogs in their pitiful living conditions. His image (Chans 1996:12) for T.N. Prakash’s story ‘Vazhipadu’ features Janardanan, a representative of the working class. The helplessness reflected in his eyes and face can be found in most of Chandrashekharan’s characters. Even when he visualizes upper class reality, the underlying impulse characterizing the image would be the sensorial frame of the working classes. The Brahmin priest in Vathsala’s story “Jayanthan Namboothiriyude Sayanthanangal” is not visualized in colourful or majestic terms (Chans 1992:12). Even as the Brahmin priest is authentically portrayed as a Brahmin priest, the strokes reinvent him in the same vein as the characters from the working classes. Chandrashekharan is a committed visual artist. Therefore he is able to sustain the emphasis on the living realities implied in the text. Chandraskeharan’s style is closer to the classical realist tradition and distant from the romantic tradition. It is virtually consummate in that his strokes underscore human anatomy. As with AS, Chandraskharan falls in that lineage of artists who master the human anatomy only to masterfully distort it.

Endlessly long and expansive backdrops are there in several of his illustrations. Through this, his scenes become more credible and majestic. The illustrations for the second chapter (Chans 1992:10) of M.K. Gangadharan’s novel “Palangal” are along these lines. Zig zag rail lines and trains parked conjure up the impression of a huge railway station. This imagery crafted by powerful strokes takes the reader to the environs of the novel. Expansive imagery can also be found in plenty in the illustrations for Vathsala’s novel ‘Vilapangal’ against the backdrop of Malabar rebellion. The illustrations for the second chapter of K.S. Richard’s novel ‘Bhoomiyude Uppu’ has fishing boats lined up in the open and large beach. Such distinctively beautiful scenes are received by the readers with open arms. Appreciation of paintings calls for a diligent approach identical to that of reading a literary work. 

To enhance communicability, Chandrashekharan relies much on robust symbols. This illustrator employs explicit and implicit symbols and lines to bring out the conscious and subconscious states of the characters. For the illustrations (Chans 1996:21) of Shreekrishnapuram Krishnankutty’s “Kyevittupoya Kathapathrangal”, he portrayed the protagonists Madhavan and Parvathi as one body but their faces inverted. One finds a weighing scale between both. The story details the complications in marriage. The weighing scale is a powerful symbol here. The atmosphere of heated arguments, censure and justifications is revealed through this. This is a model for visual meaning making rather than textual meaning making. The adoption of door as a symbolic entity in tune with its thematic relevance by the illustrator for A.R. Manoharavarma’s “Vaathil” made it easier for transfer of ideas.

In keeping his heads smaller than usual, Chandrashekharan seems to be following the technique of Namboothiri. However, his playbook does not suggest character traits and meanings through movements of the hand and hand gestures. His fingers are incoherent and laidback. The eyes of Chandrashekharan’s characters also differ with A.S’s signature big eyes and Namboothiri’s tiny eyes. Their eyes remain half closed. This has remarkably enhanced the charm of his illustrations of woman characters. But his woman characters are not distinguishably gracious like Namboothiri’s women. He resists from turning the image into an enticing product.

There are several of his characters who sit face to face in the solitude of darkness. In the illustrations for the novel “Agragami” authored by Simon Britto, one notices blurred outlines of men sitting in the dark. This illustration technique brings out the psychological stress of the characters. Darkness intensifies right through the illustrations of “Karal Pilarum Kaalam” by C. Radhakrishnan. It works for the said novel where the plot unfolds against the backdrop of radical politics. The illustration for the first chapter of “Karal Pilarum Kaalam” features a nameless man writing a letter. Though his face is incoherent, this youth acquires physical properties that can be attributed to any naxal activist in India. The black lines employed in a unique fashion uncovers his frustration. B. Murali’s story “Karamaargam” features an illustration (Chans 1996:22) of countless images rising up in the dark. His pictorial universe contains shapes of orphaned and impoverished childhood. Sorrowful infancy, frustrations of youth, adversity of womanhood, helplessness of old etc. appear as dark hues in Chandrashekaran’s art. 

For Irving Stone’s novel “Lust for Life”, Chandrashekharan adopted a style that upsets conventional practice. His approach foregrounds internal life of this novel that deals with the life of van Gogh. These illustrations which reinvented literary meaning and blazed a distinct aesthetic world were incorporated into the book when it got published as a novel. This reflected a novel experiment in illustration art. 

For Yashpal’s novel “Moonnaamathoral”, he took to symbolically translate what lay beyond the obvious. These visuals are an indication of what was omitted from the external realities of the novel while the artist seeped in the exclusive domain of visual language. The illustrations for Niranjana’s novel ‘Minal’ offered a delectable experience for the readers. The racy and original illustrations provided moments of great pleasure. The visual language of Niranjana’s “Banashankari” also received the attention and appreciation of readers. For it, Chandrashekharan used black colour with lines.  

The illustrations for Malathi Joshi’s “Mochanam” and Indu Sahi’s “Samudra Madhanam” ignite intense sentiments. The illustration work for Tapovijaya Ghosh’s novel “Kannaadiyile Prathibimbam” made use of black colour alongside lines and firm strokes replaced fragile lines. The appreciation of Khalid’s novel “Sathshreekaal” was influenced by the visual language that effectively combined delicate lines and black backdrops. The beauty and spontaneity of laid back strokes illuminated this work. 

The illustrations accompanying South African novelist Nadine Gordimer’s novelette translated and published as “Varum Varum Enna Pratheeksha” enhanced appreciation. The imaginative line art depiction of African society and settings turned out to be a wonderful work of art. Such works which look for a place of openness in the viewer’s mind is rare in Malayalam.

Chandrashekharan’s works that came to determine several novels and influenced Malayali sensibility in a big way include C. Radhakrishnan’s “Karal Pilarum Kalam”, N. Prabhakaran’s “Bahuvachanam”, P.V.K Panayal’s “Thalamurakalude Bharam”, “Sooryapettu”, V.S. Anil Kumar’s “Panpadayar Pattundu Ulakam”, E. Vasu’s “Purambokku” etc.

Depict the other from the eyes of a character. Visually distort objects and characters to communicate troubling psychological conditions. Create specific moods by playing around with light. Capture the bare essential and accentuate evocations. The creation of great visual treats by the use of dense shadows and focused lights on select areas of the image. The strategic interplay of vagueness and coherence. Decode the mental world of the characters within the illustrations. Chandrashekharan’s illustrations achieve several feats. In his illustrations, we experience palpable anxiety about getting the truth of the literary text precisely right.