Visited the Ajanta Ellora Caves more than 10 years ago, he was mystified by a stone sculpture that showed lotus flowers in different stages of bloom — some stood faint and withered and some were yet to be born, then there were those that reached out to the skies. It’s their gravity-defying stance that caught his attention. The lotus was not a motif pursued often by Kerala artists, but Sadanandan wasn’t going to let that come in his way.
A student of well-known mural artist Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair, Sadanandan had been using natural dyes and colours for over two decades. Five years of training under his guru had made him proficient in oil, acrylic and tempera. Recently, he exhibited in Delhi in a group exhibition titled “Imprints Spring 2016” at the Lokayata Art Gallery, where he also held workshops for students of fine art. “I have been curious about bringing the technique of wall murals onto canvas and paper. During the last 10 years, I have discovered new ways of adapting the dyes to surfaces. I have read old texts and worked with extracts from trees, plants, stone and grass,” says Sadanandan, 50.
The artist from Thrissur uses neem gum to get the colours to stick to the canvas. Since it’s primarily water colours, natural dyes need to have a binding agent, which is achieved through the gum. While laterite stone, ubiquitous in Kerala, ground and filtered, provides red and yellow dyes, blue comes from indigo ferra, and black is collected from the soot of oil lamps.
Sadanandan’s themes primarily revolve around myths and legends, gods and goddesses. Each of them achieve a lyrical tone, from the choice of colours to the depth of contrasts, lending Krishna a softness in his delicate blue, while Radha’s eyes tell of her longing, her stride appears confident and purposeful. It is this aspiration for the spiritual that he hopes to achieve, inspired by the murals he had restored at one of Kerala’s wealthiest temples, Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
As he chants the six principles of “how to make a painting” in Sanskrit, his commitment towards saving the dying art is evident. “As an artist, I would be failing in my duty if I don’t pass on the wealth of information our ancestors left us. As I live in contemporary times, with all its environmental problems, I try to show what nature can give us,” says Sadanandan.
His murals at Spice Route restaurant at The Imperial, Delhi, holds that truth, where the gods come down from the heavens to meet man in various avatars. “In olden days, artists were patronised by kings. It was believed that a painting, done in the right composition, will bring glory to both the ruler and his people,” says the artist whose murals have fashioned several walls, both in residences and commercial spaces. Currently preparing for a group show in Dubai, he is also planning a workshop in Chennai.