FLAME University


FLAME in the news

At home in the studio: Two painters and a cartoonist on the spaces they call their own

www.news9live.com | May 29, 2022
Article Intro Image

Home studios are extensions of an artist's practice. A studio however is much more than an architectural space. It encapsulates an emotional as well as a creative laboratory. Oftentimes, I have thought of the studio as a reflection of the artist herself. Visits to artist studios have also revealed to me or helped comprehend the practice of an artist where the inner and outer worlds effortlessly coalesce to create an interface with art.

The artist creates a work of art in the privacy of the studio and then the work travels to galleries, museums and other spaces to attain a more public character, an audience with the viewers. Some artists prefer to work from home, others choose to find a studio away from home. Several of these choices are also determined by economic factors. Not all artists can afford a separate studio. Some prefer to create a distance between where they live and work. Home studios however are a microcosm unto themselves, as I recently discovered from visiting three home studios of artists based in Palakkad, Kerala.

Renowned political cartoonist EP Unny lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Palakkad town. Unny emphatically says that he is a cartoonist and not an artist. He has no illusions about working from/in a studio. His response is also anchored in a history of neglect and treatment of cartoons by the larger art ecosystem which denigrates cartoons as low art. The inclusion of Unny's cartoons in the Kochi Muziris Biennale and Lokame Tharavadu exhibitions is therefore an important curatorial intervention to break art hierarchies and reimagine the showcasing of visual arts.

Unny repeatedly says that the cartoon is the most public of all arts, charged with an immediacy that is peculiar to it alone. It also has an immense potential to draw in an audience and begin conversations about contemporary events. Cartoons therefore ought to be seen and shown alongside other visual art practices and not treated merely as a separate category. The cartoon, often more effectively, performs a social as well as aesthetic function like other arts.

Unny works in his study. It is where his cartoons are born. Though he uses pen and paper to sketch, the final cartoon is now drawn on a digital device. Several times during the day, depending on the political developments in the country, the cartoon is revised and updated. Unny's study also features a small cot which doubles up as his bed. He informs that he has always slept in his study cum studio cum workspace. His cartoons are born here: perhaps this space is most conducive to his cartoon thinking. There are numerous books on cartoons in the study. Alongside cartoon titles, books on cinema, culture and fiction jostle for space on the bookshelf. One can see these worlds assemble in his cartoons — pithy, minimal, multidimensional.

(L) EP Unny at work; (R) his workspace
(L) EP Unny at work; (R) his workspace

Sreeja Pallam lives in Ottapalam. I first thought the name of the town sounds like a musical instrument. Sreeja's canvases reverberate with concerns for women and other humanitarian crises facing the world. When I visited her home cum studio, she pointed out the kitchen corner to me saying it is the smallest space in the house — designed thus with an intention to discourage her from spending too much time there. A big kitchen, for her, is an inconvenience.

The house which she shares with her husband and two kids is akin to a permanent exhibition of her work. On the walls of her home, Sreeja has painted women from the vicinity engaged in house work, perhaps a reflection of their domestic chores. A big wall relief of Communist leader and former Chief Minister of Kerala EMS Namboodiripad, made by Sreeja, greets entrants to her house. This could also be read as an expression of the family's ideological conviction. In her studio, there are numerous paintings reflecting a decade long practice.

Sreejas wall painting
Sreeja's wall painting

On the way to Sreeja's home, I saw several women wearing headscarfs. When I entered her studio, I found similarly dressed women in her paintings. It felt as if the women had walked from the street into her painting and Sreeja was attempting to capture their life on canvas.

Unnikrishnan C lives in the village of Pezhumpara in Nemmara, Palakkad, surrounded by long stretches of green. Unnikrishnan was first noticed for his brick paintings at the Kochi Biennale. In fact, he started doing this during a period of personal crisis when the bricks on the wall of his bedroom turned into a visual journal of sorts. He treated them as a diary recording his life, ideas, statements on the bricks.

Unnikrishnan Cs studio.
Unnikrishnan C's studio.

Unnikrishnan built his studio on an adjacent plot of land next to his home during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recluse by his own admission, he now lives with his partner, Emmanuel Mettles, a poet and psychologist.

Unnikrishnan's studio offers a visual entry into his paintings. Each object, plant, leaf, character that adorns his canvas seems to have come from his immediate surroundings. In the new painting that he was working on, I noticed a lonesome woman figure. He told me that the woman in the painting is his mother. After a while, his mother emerged to greet us and for me, thus, the reception of the painting was complete. I had seen the art, its surroundings, the people who feature in it, and the hand and heart that brings it to life.

The writer is a culture critic. He teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune.

- By Prof. Kunal Ray, Faculty of Literary and Cultural Studies

(Source:- https://www.news9live.com/art-culture/at-home-in-the-studio-two-painters-and-a-cartoonist-on-the-spaces-they-call-their-own-173143 )