Sunday, April 3, 2011

Painting Classes

The medium of instruction was noise: the kids were to be messy, noisy, and themselves, recording all that in their sketchbooks. Sunkad sir of the Indian Institute of World Culture was no ordinary man, and his expert painting skills called for much attention. I was ten when Amma dropped me off to painting classes in the hopes that I’d blossom into the next Michelangelo. I’ll be modest and say that I almost got there, but in my defense, being terrified does things to your bloated self confidence. The Indian Institute of World Culture was an old building. I was petrified in the beginning—scared of  the oils and acrylics that stared down on me from every corner, uncanny creations of vivacity, skill and drama. It was a strange, ancient place—a living relic.

The outer verandah was all of a roomy vastness, filtered lights, and walls decorated with a gaudy relevance: it was the documentation of the works of previous students, a history recorded in progression.  It was beneath these proud paintings that the teenage artists huddled in groups, squeezing bright colors on the palette. Occasionally, one could crack a joke and the laughter would awaken like a whiplash, travelling around the room—with a loud, raucous, crackling brashness that would eventually saturate the space. In an attempt at bravado, I’d smile: trying to belong in jokes and groups that I hadn't understood. They'd ignore me and continue like Sunkad sir wasn't listening. He’d say something mild then, from inside his office. But the chortles would effectively drown him out. I was afraid.

The less experienced painters and the little miss-nothings would squat in the very back, on smaller tables designed just for them. It was dark with the shadows here. He called for the new students on the first day and asked us to paint whatever we wanted, a freedom in choice, medium, and ideas. I had heard nothing like that before. I painted thoughtlessly, weakly….enjoying it, a little less scared. I would grow accustomed to this place.

As the days rolled, the weak sketches turned into fearless strokes, and the brushes became more varied. Newer sketch books: I was progressing at an amazing pace, and yet nobody would have guessed such rapid improvement by how calm I appeared to be when I was sitting there with my colors, thoroughly absorbed and concentrating. Those were peaceful and languid evenings: lazy, beautiful and creative...where possibilities tiptoed into my head as I moved my brush now with a more refined, gracefully natural cadence, where I balanced color with sensibility, mixed emotion with acrylic. Those evenings  exuded an easy charm that I now nostalgically recollect: when I packed my things to head back home, it was always with the sense of profound contentment and achievement: today, I had created something new that nobody else in the world had painted the exact same way, with the exact same brushes, with the exact same ideas. The very thought was appealing.

The people who had graduated the low tables sat on high chairs at the long wooden benches in the inner verandah, and they were vigorous sketchers. They stayed away from the misbehaving teenage painters of the outer hall, and were marked by many lines of wrinkled maturity on their faces. There was a density to their talks, sketches and everything about them. The HB 2 pencils lay scattered around as they produced images with such terrifying accuracy and expert skill that I’d stand in awe and gape. I wanted to earn a greeting from them. I wanted to get there.

I understood what inspiration meant. I understood how images could create emotion, how they could stir feelings. I learnt so many things as I sat there on the low benches, in the shadows with my Camlin paints. I was beginning to learn harder. Aspiration started bearing fruit in a creative head. Sooner or later, the high table with the society of the best sketchers would call on me. Three sketch books later, one painting had made it to the art exhibit. And it was already the end of the year. The high table was still oblivious.

“It’ll take about five years to get there,” Sunkad sir used to say. And I was truly waiting for that day.

I'm still waiting

Art—a favorite childhood pastime was buried in my love of books that dominated all my other tastes, interests and choices. Nothing I’ve ever done has found a more abrupt halt. The love for the written word robbed my interest in images, and in case, I was moving away from Bangalore.
I remember bidding farewell to the place.  From then on, I’ve never picked up a paint brush, never found the inclination to, never even desired.

Until yesterday.

I don't know what prompted me to pick the brush up again. I was reading R.K. Narayan’s “Bachelor of Arts” recently, and flipped through the pages. Vivid images of how I imagined the character of Chandran flashed into my conscious thought. I decided ten years was long enough a wait. It was time to pick up the brush and paint—however clumsily, however pathetically, however crudely.

And “Penance” took shape.

The beginnings of “The Penance“—before I got to painting the beard.

This is with increased saturation standards, just for fun, I was playing with it in Picasa.

The sepia gives a old-worldly, nostalgic effect that i find an essential component of the painting that I couldn’t bring to focus, so i took a little help. 

Every stroke was discovery. I felt contentment so complete that I’ve never felt anything like it in the recent years: it was the silent joy of rediscovery, the kind of joy that escapes sensible thought. Every stroke took me back to the peaceful evenings in the verandah's of the Indian Institute of World Culture, where I used to walk past the high table, in hope of belonging with the expert painters.

I hope the high table is proud of me. If they aren’t, well, I’m still trying. As I used to say, ten years ago, Someday, I'll get there. Trying is all that matters.