Yusuf: Portrait of artist & his haunting, taunting faces

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Yusuf: Portrait of artist & his haunting, taunting faces

Postby rekha2010 » Thu Feb 03, 2011 5:37 am

Noted Kerala-born portrait artist Yusuf Arakkal has honed his trademark portraiture of faces in the last 40 years into a series of haunting visages. “If Mona Lisa can sport a moustache, why can't I paint faces?” asks the artist, now working on canvases woven around Christ.

The evocative faces have been defined by critics as “voices from the void, filled with a strange power that haunt, taunt and burn with a latent fire”. No wonder an exhibition, on at the Art Alive Gallery that closes Feb 12, is called “An Inner Fire”.

“I have been painting faces since Day 1. I trained in portraits even before I went to the art school under Jaya Varma, a relative of the renowned Raja Ravi Varma. He taught me to draw faces in the European tradition for 18 months in 1964,”.

“Between 1964 and 1969, I painted several portraits but when I finished art school, my approach to portraits changed according to the phases in my life. There were times when I painted children’s faces.

“Certain faces lingered in my memory and haunted me. Sometimes I refer to press photographs but I do not copy from photographs. Once I even painted my gardener,” Arakkal said.

The 66-year-old artist, who is also fond of cinema, studies the way a filmmaker frames his subject on the lens. Influences of filmmakers like Vittorio de Sica, Satyajit Ray, Raj Kapoor and Truffaut are apparent in his work.

“I am interested in the camera,” he said.

Arakkal’s life is one of adventure. A member of the erstwhile ruling Arakkal clan of Cannanore in northern Kerala (now Kannur), the artist of Islamic lineage left his native place for Bangalore in search of a job.

Initially, he felt lost in the film-crazy Bangalore of the 1960s.

But a member of the extended Arakkal royalty took in the young artist and provided him shelter till he found a job as a technician at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore.

But the desire to paint and sculpt was overriding, the artist remembered.

Arakkal gave up his job to study at the Chitrakala Parishad. He spent some time as a graphic artist at the Garhi Artists Village in Delhi.

The faces are drawn to linear and geometrical measurements and his canvases often come across as a detailed graph with horizontal and vertical lines supporting the visage.

Arakkal was honoured with the prestigious Lorenzo De Medici gold medal in 2006 at the Florence International Beinnale for his composition, “Bacon’s Man With the Child and Priest”.

The artist, who assimilates inspiration and the subtleties of his craft from post-war Western contemporaries, is working on a new series on Jesus Christ comprising 10 compositions.

“The first composition of the series, ‘Christ's Last Supper’ with only Christ looming in the frame was exhibited at the India Art Summit 2011. I have completed two more in the series, the ‘Gethesemane Prayer’ (Christ's last prayer in the garden of Gethesemane) and ‘Piata’ (Italian for dead),” Arakkal said.

Arakkal believes “figurative art is the trend of the decade”.

“In the last five years, Indian contemporary art has been drawn to ‘super-realism’, popularised in the US in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s by artists like Chuck Close, who painted a curious body of grid-like artscapes and photo-realistic images in the CMYK colour format,” he said.

The other trend is that of “traditional figurative drawing, the kind mastered by Kishen Khanna and Rameswar Broota,” Arakkal said.

“Portraiture is a difficult genre because it requires technical expertise. But as a creative art form, it can give away to tedium and mechanical repetition if the portraits are not dredged from memory and imagination,” he said.
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