Tribute to a master
R. Madhavan Nair
Francis Kodankandath's latest series of paintings, `Tributes,' honours Raja Ravi Varma's work as an artist.
Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup
INSPIRED BY THE RAJA: Francis Kodankandath with his paintings.
After a series of paintings titled `Decoding da Vinci' in which he challenged the observations of author Dan Brown about Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's `Last Supper,' artist Francis Kodankandath is now into an equally ambitious project.
The project is to produce 100 paintings. Each painting is meant to be a tribute to the greatness and grandeur of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma. This series is titled `Tributes.'
The first show of Francis' `Tributes' was held on October 2, at the very studio in Kilimanoor Palace where the legendary painter used to work. `Tributes-Kozhikode' was the next stop in Francis' journey through the route Raja Ravi Varma took. The paintings were on display at Shrishti Art Gallery in Kozhikode.
Kozhikode is significant in the history of Ravi Varma's art . His first portrait was for the Kizhakkeppatt family that has its roots in Kozhikode.
Francis' series `Decoding Da Vinci' came at a time when heated debates were on about Dan Brown's controversial book.
His latest series, aptly titled `Tributes,' is well-timed as it coincides with the death centenary of Raja Ravi Varma, which is being observed in 2005-2006.
Francis has already made a name for himself in the art scene, having won the National Akademi Award in 2003-2004 and Kerala Lalitakala Akademi award as many as three times. He believes that there is no better way to pay tributeto the master painter than to re-do his paintings with his artistic touch.
According to Francis, his 100 paintings on Ravi Varma's acclaimed works would be unique. The Kozhikode edition of `Tributes' would be followed by a show on a bigger scale at an art gallery by the same name in Hyderabad later this month.
On view at Shrishti, Kozhikode, were 16 paintings inspired by the well-known works of Raja Ravi Varma. Francis has juxtaposed them with paintings from his series on `Da Vinci Code,' perhaps to show that Ravi Varma's works are also of global importance.
Francis points out that the average Keralite's views on paintings have been conditioned by Ravi Varma's works. Evidence of his popularity is the presence of copies of Ravi Varma paintings in many a Malayali home. Literary critics have also been quick to point out that beneath their sheer elegance, these paintings have sociological content too.
Francis believes that what makes Ravi Varma a truly great artist is the seriousness with which he pursued painting, and his readiness to earn a living out of it even though he was of royal lineage.
Ravi Varma, according to Francis, also deserved kudos for taking his art beyond geographical boundaries. The Kaiser-e-Hind honour conferred on him by the British in 1940 is only one of the many accolades that came his way.
Ravi Varma had travelled long distances, crossing geographical and cultural barriers, to exhibit his paintings at a time when travel was time consuming and tedious. His journey took him across Mookambika, Madras (Chennai), Poona (Pune) Bombay (Mumbai), Baroda, Bangalore, Mysore, Delhi, Kolkata, and Hyderabad.
"The best tribute an artist of the present generation can pay to the great master is in the form of paintings. More so when the world is observing his death centenary," says Francis.
In his series, Francis tries to recreate every character featured in Ravi Varma's paintings, sometimes on separate canvases, splitting up the images as well as the background of the painting in the process. Inset in the background of each painting is a portrait of Raja Ravi Varma.
`Tributes' would be on view in major cities in the country and in a few cities abroad before it concludes on October 2, 2006, with an exhibition at the very place from where it had started - Kilimanoor, where Ravi Varma was born in 1848.
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