Kerala-based Suresh K. Nair created 4,500 miniature paintings during the lockdown
In November 2019, Suresh K. Nair was leaving for Lisbon from London when he stumbled upon a passenger at the Heathrow airport. Her gait caught his attention and he decided to sketch her. “Somebody in her mid-40s, and apparently a dancer. Such amazing cadence in her sashay!” Nair recalls. “I felt an urge to sketch her, but had no paper on me.”
So the artist took out a visiting card and started drawing on its back. On reaching the Portuguese capital, Nair bought some handmade paper and “cut them into matchbox-size pieces, little realising that it was going to be the start of a long series in minimalist art,” says Nair, who teaches painting at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). “Today I have more than 4,500 of them.”
The number is significant; it refers to Nair’s village in Palakkad, the riverine Vellinezhi, that has around 4,500 families. “I plan to visit each house and give one artwork away. It will add to my ongoing efforts to popularise visual art among common people,” says the 50-year-old, an alumnus of Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal and the Institute of Mural Painting in Guruvayur.
Vellinezhi’s civic body has warmed up to the initiative and has extended finances under a governmental programme for national promotion of culture.
From 2019, Nair has been constantly working on his miniatures. “Initially, the images did not have any colour in the backdrop. But i later began to spray colours on them after sketching,” says Nair. His process had changed due to two reasons.
One, was COVID-19. Nair developed a terrible cough and breathlessness. “My wife and two daughters had just left for Kerala and I was alone in my quarters. To ward off the loneliness and fears of death, I focussed all the more on my miniatures. My state of mind altered the painting process.”
Art by Suresh K. Nair
The second reason was a sudden mid-summer shower. Nair had had kept his artwork to dry in long rows on the balcony. Raindrops spattered on them, and he decided to make that effect a feature of his the work. “I felt my work has documented Varanasi’s clouds and skies as well.”
Nair is an ardent advocate of public art. “I realised its importance during my studies at Santiniketan (1995-2002). I liked the Tagorean concept of bringing art closer to the man on the street,” he says. This spirit is manifest in Nair’s ‘Wall of Peace’, an outdoor work, created in association with 15 students in early 2019, on 14 panels across 7,000 sq.m., on the fence of a government school in Cherpulassery.
Nair’s earliest inspiration came from two temples in his neighbourhood in Adakkaputhur, with their classical frescoes. It took him to Kerala’s first mural institute, after a two-year course from Silpachitra College of Fine Arts in Pattambi. “Doing murals in cloistered environs is one thing, and public art is another,” says Nair.
He experiments on this idea in varied ways. One such is to paint at gatherings where a music recital is on. “I do it in Benaras; painting at venues hosting Sufi or Hindustani concerts. In a way, they are a repetition of what I used to do in the 1990s — watching Kathakali shows and sketching the characters on stage.”
Art work by Suresh K. Nair
“Such trysts may appear repetitive, but they have a therapeutic effect,” the artist says. “No wonder, my latest miniatures feature what the Natyasastra classifies as the 108 karanas (brief movements of the body, accompanied by hand gestures).”
The writer is a keen follower of Kerala’s performing arts.