Looking back is Looking forward by G. Gurunathan & Recent works by Maanas Udayakumar

Start Date : 06 May 2024

End Date : 22 May 2024

Location : Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai

Looking back is looking forward

By G. Gurunathan


Over the last few years Gurunathan’s works have emerged from the understanding that art and life are not separate. This philosophy manifested in the manner in which he engaged with materials and processes. He now takes this further by finding inspiration in the here and now- his neighbourhood.  

Living in Padi (Chennai), a suburb known for its industries, he often saw metal barrels, used for storing various liquids, being recycled. He uses the coloured, discoloured, rusted and weathered metal surfaces of these objects to create his current series of artworks. These works map his immediate world and the life of the city using the objects that are consumed by its population. At the same time, the rugged materiality, scale and appearance of the works kindle memories of distant landscapes filled with greenery, water bodies, mountains and vast spaces. 

Gurunathan sees a parallel between the elements of nature that shape a landscape and the artificial and natural forces weathering the objects he works with- both act slowly yet steadily creating change. Furthermore, these transformative forces share much with the creative process which follows its own internal order untouched by the pressures of speed, productivity and utility. An artist’s harmony with the creative rhythm transforms the perception of time- accelerating or decelerating its passage, alters experience- converting the physical act of making into a meditative process and transforms subjectivity- creating a sense of oneness with the environment around. 

Gurunathan’s work is an exercise in sharing this magic of making that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. In his own work, he demonstrates this by using commonplace urban fragments that metamorphose into maps of unseen worlds. As he bridges the near with the distant, an industrial space with the space of art, the mundane with the abstract and the past with the present, he creates a web of connections between different kinds of making, perceptions and experiences. Through this, he takes yet another step forward in his journey towards realising the oneness of creation. 

Recent works

by Maanas Udayakumar

It all began six months ago when Maanas Udayakumar, a visual artist and high school art teacher, spotted a sketchbook lying atop a shelf in his school. A member of staff had meticulously made an effort to salvage the paper which students wasted each year. There it was – a 400-page sketchbook with cream pages just waiting to be used. He pulled it out, and in a frenzy, started painting (or drawing, if you wish to see it that way), and continued. A figure of a woman emerged; an old love. She has become a trope; a motif or a recurrent theme. Now it's the shape of Maanas’ memory of her and his interest in image-making that occupies him.

Maanas is an abstract, figurative visual artist based out of Bengaluru. He draws inspiration from his personal journey encompassing themes of love, loss, and mental health struggles. In his work, he explores image making, particularly fixating on the shapes of people, flora and fauna in his memories rather than the narratives they evoke. Utilising emulsion or wall paints in monochrome, his small-scale works boast ample space within their compositions. As the paper expands, additional elements such as plants, gold and guppy fishes, cats, dogs, mathematical instruments, and lotus stems emerge, all depicted from unconventional angles. His signature too, serves as a significant aesthetic component in his work. Maanas’ pieces are minimalist, lacking intricate detail. Although symmetry is absent, harmony and balance are prioritised. 

The artist’s style took root during his pursuit of a master's degree. Initially hesitant, Maanas was persuaded to enrol in a painting program due to the arrival of a new teacher at the Tamil Nadu Music and Fine Arts University; a Pondicherry-based artist named Ezhumalai Ezhilarasan. It was an encounter with him that left an indelible mark on Maanas. He was captivated by his professor's energy, his hands-on approach to creating art – from stretching canvases to crafting frames – and his unwavering commitment to producing work daily, all underpinned by a unique philosophy of life. It was during this time that Maanas was introduced to the use of emulsion paint, a revelation for him as he admired the quality and immediacy of this medium. Due to the use of emulsion paint, he does not have to wait to express what’s on his mind unlike while using acrylics, where one typically needs to wait for the right consistency. 

His professor's pleasant demeanour and style further endeared him to Maanas. Reflecting on their initial interaction, Maanas fondly recalls his professor's simple yet profound response upon seeing Maanas's figure painting from life: "You seem to have fun doing it."

When Maanas began painting, he drew inspiration from his breakup and battles with depression. His daily drives on the highway at that time exposed him to a lot of roadkill, which he started incorporating into his art. His works emit a dark vibe in that sense. Initially, he might not have a clear idea of what he wants to paint, but he channels his emotions into the process. The first few minutes are crucial as he carefully considers where to start, focusing on a detail or a play of light that catches his eye. Once he begins painting, the piece usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes to complete. He follows his instincts, allowing the paint to guide him, shaping abstract forms into recognisable figures as he works. The process is feverish and intense as the visuals are generated in a continuous flow in his mind, so much so that the artist does not even change brushes while creating a piece.

Maanas’ small sized works have now expanded into an exploration of scale. In this exhibition, he has created a few large scale works that continue to explore familiar themes but incorporate new visual elements like fish bones. He says that he is playing around with more elements such as fish bones, cat bones, dots and odd shapes now and is also influenced by ceramics, which he has been trying his hand at recently.

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