Swati Chandra | April 13, 2016
Painter Suresh K Nair was born and brought up in Kerala. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pune and Visva Bharati University, he is currently teaching art in the department of painting at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Nair has acquired a major presence in art spaces both in India and abroad for his Kerala-style murals. His monumental painting Cosmic Butterfly was exhibited in Essl Museum,Vienna, Austria in 2010. He has been awarded the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi award from the government of Kerala, Elizabeth Green Shield Foundation Scholarship and Earth Day network award (Washington) along with various exchange programmes and research projects. He and his students are actively involved in promoting art through various public art projects like turning shabby walls and neglected garbage dump sites into beautiful wall murals.
What attracted you towards traditional art work?I grew up in Vellinezhi village of Kerala which is known for various performing and visual art forms. I got a chance to observe murals, daru shilpas (wooden sculptures), pavakoothu (shadow puppets), dhooli chithras (powder paintings) and other architectural and ritual art forms. Later in college, I learnt the techniques, aesthetics and history of these art forms.
Your best art work so far: When I was studying in Visva Bharati, I made a mural titled Cosmic Form. The painting depicted emergence of life forms.
Tell us about the mural near Wagah border: It is the country’s biggest cement relief mural (10 feet high and 200 feet wide) at the Wagah border. It depicts the pre-partition and partition era.
What is the idea behind street art projects you have initiated in Varanasi? It is a way of encouraging cleanliness and waste management in the city. We identified more than 545 areas for creating murals. Work has been done in almost 20 places.
Person you admire the most: Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. I am fortunate to serve in BHU which he founded.
If you were not a painter: I would have either been a monk, farmer or politician.
Your idea of comfort food: I don’t like fast food. I always look out for local flavours. As a Keralite, I like Kanghi (boiled rice with its water, coconut chutney, pickles and papad).
High point in your life: Living in a cultural space like Varanasi, meeting people and sharing ideas with children and students.
Low point in your life: Being away from Kerala, my native place. I miss its culture.
How do you balance the life of a teacher and a painter? From the very beginning, I wanted to share my ideas with children. As a painter, I ideate and as a teacher, I share those ideas. Art needs to be propagated among masses.
We have heard you dance while you paint: This came as a by-product of drawing murals of dance forms like Kathakali. I drew mudras (hand gestures), different expressions, movements and costumes. This practice led to intermixing of painting with musical notes and dance steps. My first dance-painting performance was for TEDx at IIT-BHU. I find mixing colours with sound and light very interesting.
Your advice to aspiring painters: Whatever work you do, should inspire the society. Art is not an intellectual practice; it should be able to communicate with people from all walks of life.
You want to be remembered as: A social scientist, responding through art.
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