Artist Namboothiri: A ray of gold on the wall of time

Artist Namboothiri in a 1996 photograph. File photo: Manorama

Artist Namboothiri is a golden line drawn by time on Kerala's art history. Not just his illustrations, he left his mark through his creations in wood, metal, stone, cement and clay.

In a freewheeling interview he gave when he turned 90 in 2015, he spoke about his past, associations with legendary artists and life in art.

Looking back
When I look back, it all feels like a miracle. Nothing of what I have was aspired for, not even dreamt. I also feel I was lucky. Lucky to have found the support of Varikkassery Krishnan Namboothiri. Lucky to be taught by legends like KCS Panicker in Madras.

Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury, the then principal of Madras School of Fine Arts and a renowned painter and sculptor, was one among the forces that moulded my perception. To have studied from them, rather, to have lived with them for a while was a blessing in itself. They changed me; without them, I wouldn’t have become an artist, I would’ve been a temple priest or a caterer.

Time in Mathrubhumi
N V Krishna Varrier, then chief editor of Mathrubhumi Weekly, and M T Vasudevan Nair heard about me from artist M V Devan. There was a juncture in my life when I got called in to be an illustrator in Mathrubhumi. During those times, events like these seldom happened.

Working with Devan, NV, MT, Uroob (P C Kuttikrishnan) and Sankara Kurup further chiseled my outlook.

Artist Namboothiri sketches. File photo: Manorama

On line drawings
Line drawings are my forte; lines can bring about a three-dimensional character to structures on flat surfaces. Any style that has come along with it, is merely coincidental.

But, in my opinion, the best form of art is music. It is the only art that melts a man's heart. Everything else comes below that. I can't sing, but I listen to music.

On Raja Ravi Varma
India had a rich and varied tradition of painting. But when foreigners came, people started to forget it. With the arrival of Ravi Varma, it began to travel in a different direction. His style of painting was European. It had no Indian character. It's not his fault. That's how it was back then. And it was in Bengal that Indian painting started to make a comeback. New painters came on the scene. Our art has changed to meet world standards.

On beautiful women and well-built men
I do incline towards drawing tall and well-built men, although going by the proportion, they aren’t that huge. And one doesn’t have much to compromise on when the only concern is the ink.

When V M Nair, Kamala Surayya's father, was in Mathrubhumi he told me that draw good-looking figures. "Writers might portray the women in their works as sad or even ugly, but you don't bother about that; make sure that you draw them out to be beautiful looking. After all, we have to sell the magazine," he told me.

I don't like to draw ugly women. Let all be beautiful.

Artist Namboothiri with sculptor MV Devan and movie director G Aravindan. File photo: Manorama

Aravindan, Padamarajan and cinema
Aravindan was a close friend. When he came to Kozhikode, his room was a gathering place for all like-minded people. I met many writers like Pattathuvila Karunakaran and Thikodiyan there.

It is there that we thought of making a movie. At first, Aravindan shied away from directing it, but he later agreed. It was 'Uttarayanam'. I was part of the group and later I won an award for it.

Then with Padmarajan for 'Njaan Gandharvan.' I just designed the costume for Gandharva. Then I collaborated with Shaji N Karun's film.

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