Joyous abandon

Vibrant Palette

Joyous abandon

Two faces: The subtly different  visages of Ram and Ravan.

It’s a little like that fancy chewing gum that goes pop! in your mouth when you least expect it to. Although one is familiar with Niladri Paul’s work and love for colours for well over a decade now, as you enter the gallery to check out Sutradhaar, his latest showing, the vibrancy hits you like that flavourful chewing gum. Or perhaps, a Holi balloon. “Colour is my expression. If my earlier work was drawing-oriented, these are forms without outline.”

Sutradhaar is a collection of acrylic paintings and the third in a series on the performing arts that rounds up his recent artistic journey over the past one-and-a-half years translating the dance, drama and music into the genre of fine arts.  As his wife and writer Nirupama points out, Niladri is fascinated by performances and is intense in his observation, trying to go into the subconscious mind of the performer.

But somewhere, the dance and the dancer stop being what the audience observes and grow into the metaphors that inspire an artist to look through this microcosm at the world at large. Katha I and II, for instance, has two paintings in one frame. The Kathakali dancer, looking into a mirror, applies make-up, getting ready to face the world outside the cocoon of the green room. In one frame, the man, blue on his forehead, prepares to enact Ram. In the next frame, the same man in the exact composition, becomes Ravan. This diptych, says Niladri, is the theme of his recent paintings: the dichotomy and play of evil and good in each of us, the different faces we present the world and the masks we wear and remove at each public performance.

Expressive gestures

The symbols are drawn from across the country and even from Kabuki of Japan even though the basic theme is the Natya aspect of the performing arts in India. The painting titled Kabuki is actually a fusion in that it is made up of nine canvasses conveying the Navarasa or nine different emotions.

The human forms are neither abstractions nor are they outlined and yet, they are definitely there, centre-stage, vehicles of emotion and exploration, conveying power, motive and rhythm.

Colour burst: Niladri Paul with one of his works.In Malhaar, for instance, Niladri turns the canvas vertical to use its length to convey different emotions through different poses, the top-most figure rising in exultation towards the wide expanse above, leaving behind the flat green square below.

The frame of the body is not the only vehicle of expression. The eyes,  whether they are open wide, looking askance or shut,  and the hands,  through mudras like the fingers in peacock blue signifying the peacock, speak for themselves.

“This is my stage, my canvas,” explains Niladri, and the eyes, fingers, the tilt of the body and the turn of the chin are an integral part of his artistic dictionary.   

The colours are, in the strictest sense, not traditionally ‘Indian’. Pinks, mauves, emerald greens are brought on with confident, joyous, powerful strokes to convey an energy and vibrancy that brings you alive. Even the browns are rich and vibrant, rather than muddy and morose.

And yet, since the artist is so apparently happy to use these shades, nowhere do they clash with the very Indian theme. “Pinks and mauves attract me most. I wanted to see if others react the same way to these colours since they don’t follow the traditional CMYK model,” says Niladri, who has studied and worked for years with the science of colour or chromotherapy, even using it to a theme to uplift the viewer's moods bring in harmony.  

Unalloyed enjoyment

Since these current works are inspired by the performing arts, the treatment of light takes on a new meaning. Bulbs, fading daylight and arc lights break the canvas into different zones for instance in Sutra.

The compositions have Bramhi script both as a graphic element and to announce the title of the painting. Since it has been used as a part of the composition, it does not always follow a logical sequence.

Niladri and Neeru are vibrant people and you wonder which his favourite painting is. It is not the ones with the dance but a quieter composition called Sudama, in shades of brilliant green. “I find dimension in flat colours and I see movement in the conversation between the characters. They are all bright yet there is something soothing about this composition,” he says.  

For years, Niladri, the man who uses the most vibrant colours with abandon, has worked to frame his work so that the frame, a white tray into which the much smaller painting is set, gives it depth and yet does not gobble up the colours. The only paintings that are not as colourful are the smaller acrylic on paper drawings in black and white with limited colours. These are his first random drawings before he goes on to a larger canvas. And so, there is a Tara in the planning stage that is translated into the Tara on the big canvas.

This is a modern painter, a man of his age. Pixelated works not only remind you not only of graphic art but are used to bring depth, perspective and movement, creating a unique surface. Some of the characters, about to go on-stage to depict traditional compositions, are our contemporaries. Tara, for instance, is a modern girl with a fluorescent patch on the face.

Personal involvement is important for his creative process. As he says, “I cannot be bored.” Niladri has obviously enjoyed doing this series.

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