A Padma Bhushan awardee, a few strokes through a fine mesh screen and mythical stories of lore and voila! you get the master art project Yayati undertaken by renowned artist Achutan Ramachandran. In the national capital with his solo exhibition Yayati, the veteran artist showcases 12 serigraphs (images created by pressing ink/paint through a screen using stencils). Made in 1986, the 12 panels 60 feet in length and eight feet in breadth are divided into sections of four depicting the three phases of a day — Ushas, Madhyanya and Sanya (morning, noon and evening). This is further complemented by a collection of 13 bronze sculptures titled Ratri (nightfall) that were placed in the centre of the display hall.
Completed over a period of four long years, the Yayati murals are based on the story of King Yayati, an ancestor of the Pandavas in the Mahabharat. He is believed to have enjoyed the company of several beautiful women including his two wives, Sharmista and Devyani. His overindulgence invited the wrath of his father-in-law Shukracharya who cursed him with premature old age. Yayati is then believed to have asked his five sons to lend him their youth in exchange for the kingdom. His youngest son Puru is said to have obliged. After years of enjoying youth, the king gets tired and realises the insatiable nature of his desire and the futility of intemperance. He gives up his youth and finally returns it to his son.
Ramchandran’s choice of a character from the epic Mahabharat who is barely known or discussed, is inspired by the idea of Yayati as a man who fits into the modern times. Explaining his choice of Yayati in his early interviews to the media, the artist says, “He is a human being with normal failings and foibles. He is self-centered and even selfish. More importantly, unlike the major characters of Mahabharat, he is not bound by traditional values. He recognises the call of the body and spirit and does not negate one for the other. This makes him a complete man.” Yayati hence colossal range of stories and their interpretations woven around him.
Ramachandran’s fascination with mythologies is reinstated in his use of mythical stories to tackle modern issues. In Yayati, Indian myths are incorporated to showcase the modern man’s predicaments. An advocate of original and unadulterated art work, Ramachandran has time and again emphasised the importance of understanding Indian tradition and grammar or academic tendencies instead of borrowing from the Europeans and then infusing Indian elements.
A strong supporter of the Indian ethos in art, he is believed to be a harsh critic of art groups who adapt their works to stay in step with the European art movement. He says that Indian art is better off without European modernism and that it never needed it in the first place. However, in his mega project Yayati, connoisseurs might detect an interesting mix of mythology and modernism.
Through his body of work, Ramachandran has consistently emphasised the uniqueness of Indian aesthetics and explained how distinct it is from its European counterpart. His human figures for example , deviate from the conceptual forms and are highly stylised.
He believes the use of certain techniques in Indian art is distinct from that of European art. For instance, the use of colours in European art is very literal and suggestive whereas Indian art uses colour to create visual structures. This is very pronounced in the various Yayati panels. Colours in the installations are visibly evocative and convey time and space in ways that are familiar and fresh at the same time. Ramachandran’s exaggerated depiction of nature with the use of bright colours makes Yayati stand out from the rest.
The exhibition displays Ramachandran’s uncanny ability to turn fables into mesmerising pieces of art. On till 21 October at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.