Why I paint

I write this not to tell why I paint rather why it is not possible for me not to paint. Painting for me is not just an art form but something which unifies many things to help me stay an integral whole, without which I will disintegrate into nothing. It is like an amulet which helps me keep my sanity. More than anything it is something which kept at bay the images which have haunted me throughout my life.

From childhood onwards colours and forms did haunt my inner space. I saw each and everything – not only physical things but emotions, persons, incidents, days of the week, everything – in forms and colours. There was a time when I believed this synesthetic way of seeing things was common to everybody around me. There used to be some very surrealist images that dwelt in my inner space. Painting was the only outlet to exorcise these images. But then, it was more than a mere catharsis for me.

Maybe I must speak more about my childhood. My childhood imagination was influenced by normal stuff like Disney comics and Russian folk tales on the surface; while local ghost stories, eerie rituals and creepy legends provided a dark undercurrent. These two opposite forces played a major role in deciding my art and the images that were etched in my mind. I remember the time when my mother used to take me to the nearby Chottanikkara temple and the fantastic – if not frightening – rituals performed there. Again I used to have fragile health throughout my childhood and I remember sitting in front of the doctor’s place during many wet monsoon evenings as the twilight fades into the dusk. These are two very distinct images that I have in my mind as I think about my early childhood. I thought somehow these two things have connection with each other. And they are the backbone of my art.

There are two incidents that are of relevance here. One is my seeing the then famous Hollywood horror movie ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ by Wes Craven. I was always a horror fan so never thought this one film would make much of a difference. But the surrealist scenes and images, with the all time favorite villain of ‘Freddy Kruger’ stayed with me for a long time. I saw the film when I was just entering teens (such a wrong time to see such a movie) and what followed was real horror. It was more than a few sleepless nights. There was more than ‘getting frightened’ in the whole experience. I felt as if I am emotionally and artistically violated by some sinister force. Again there was some kind of unholy enjoyment also to the whole thing. Somehow the images got fused with my inner images.

The second was a group tour which catastrophically ended in a horrible accident. It was just after my puberty - a very difficult time for me. We were travelling through Tamil Nadu and at Ramanathapuram (at that time a very small village: the place was believed unsafe after the dusk) we met with an accident during which many got wounded. I happened to witness a severed hand laying there butchered on the road with its flesh shredded to pieces. Even now that image is vivid in my mind. Later on we got marooned at one abandoned court house with nothing but a huge emptiness surrounding it. It was felt as if we were stolen into some parallel universe. The landscape was so desolate and unreal with its ocherish earth. Occasional huge palm trees stood erect here and there; and drab green creepers spread across the ground as if they were reaching out for something. A gale whistled through the vastness of the night. It was as if the place had a life of its own! We had to stay in that hopeless place for the better part of the night before we got packed away to civilization. I don’t know why, but later when my knee got injured with a ligament tear and I underwent a surgery the same images kept recurring in my mind’s space.

The images I keep drawing again and again are reinterpretations of all these actually. It is like a Jig-saw which becomes clearer as it advances in time. It is as if the images become harmless when I try to draw them. As I started, the painting was on canvas, but later a two-dimensional surface became insufficient for my work. So I started these animations, films and performances. But whatever I do, I am able only to paint. All these can be seen as paintings I have done in different mediums with additional dimensions of space and time. Painting exists in one moment of time while the other forms flow with time; two sides of the same coin!

Many a time imagery derived from traditional ritualistic practices – even though they have no connection whatsoever with the actual ones – becomes the body of my work (Examples are Vrikshavela and Kooli). The collection I have here of my works is a small sample of what I tried to do.