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Chennai exhibition traces the genesis and growth of commercial art from Madras

Chennai-based Ashvita Gallery’s newest show traces the genesis and growth of commercial art from Madras — from calendars to ads and, of course, cinema posters

Chennai-based Ashvita Gallery’s newest show traces the genesis and growth of commercial art from Madras — from calendars to ads and, of course, cinema posters

These tints, landscapes, faces and motifs are all too acquainted; we grew up seeing them on calendars, periodicals and ads. Now, save for the occasional resurrection that cashes in on their ‘retro’ worth, commercial art is inching in the direction of obscurity. At Ashvita’s quaint gallery area, a story is being created on how commercial art, which dominated many a house over the previous hundred years, noticed a motion in Madras, parallel to the relaxation of India.<SU> The exhibit is titled The Popular Picture: One Hundred Years of Commercial Art from Madras.

Look round and you discover, as an example, a calendar that dates again to 1966: A scene that depicts the Hindu god Shiva surrounded by pious devotees is juxtaposed by columns of dates and a masthead that reads Murali Traders. A 1970 poster carries maybe the most widely-shared and replicated portray of one other Hindu god, Balamurugan, that reads With finest compliments from: Sri Mangalambiga Stores — Dealers in chrome steel and common retailers.

These widely-circulated works of art are most frequently not attributed, but are very important to the visible language of the nation. “This show exists because we wanted to ask people questions like: ‘What is fine art? Who classifies it as fine art? Why does Hussain get a museum exhibition and not say, Konderaju and Aykan,’” says Ashvin E Rajagopalan, curator of the show. Most of these artworks have been discarded. “They became objects of no value because they were free. Today we are able to give them a context.”

A calendar that dates back to 1966  

A calendar that dates again to 1966  

The focus of the show that brings seven artists to the fore doesn’t stray away from Madras. Initially, it was not a 100-year historical past, says the curator. 

It all began with a Tanjore portray of lord Rama that got here into their assortment by probability. “Right at the bottom, in older Tamil, it said that anyone who wanted to buy prints of such artworks, were required to go to shop number so and so, in Broadway, dated 1888. A lot of such paintings are classified as Tanjore paintings on paper, even in museums today. But we figured out that college students would come to lithography presses in Broadway, which has been a hub of calendars, greeting cards and posters for the past 100 years, to print them on lithographs in black-and-white which were later hand coloured. It therefore became inexpensive and could be easily replicated. This happened around the same time when works of artists like Raja Ravi Varma came to the printing presses.” And so, the influences are arduous to overlook. When an artist’s visuals get commercialised on this scale, reputation follows. And when these visuals keep in houses for lengthy durations of time, it turns into the thought itself; of gods and goddesses, landscapes and sceneries.   

From there, the narrative reveals how this motion branched out to totally different features: On show are additionally journal covers and calendars that maintain “state-of-the-art photoshop work of that time”. In that sense, they might paint, minimize the font (for textual content) and stick it, and ship the detrimental of the entire panel to the press. Only a number of of the magazines had offset know-how then. Ananda Vikatan was one of the first publications to go offset in the Nineteen Thirties. Their magazines that carried artworks on the cowl have been extremely anticipated by the Tamil-speaking inhabitants. Similarly, a set of draft designs for the Rajinikanth film Pandian (2000) reveals hand-sketched, highly-skilled work that mixes cut-and-paste parts.

A draft poster of the Rajinikanth-starrer ‘Pandian’ (2000)

A draft poster of the Rajinikanth-starrer ‘Pandian’ (2000)

The late 1800s additionally noticed a crop of pictures college students organising studios throughout Tamil Nadu. “The studio’s job was commercial work: apart from photos and portraits, they would also work on greeting cards and calendars. And when you enlarge a photo, it starts becoming blurred, and to sharpen it the studio would have people doing finishing touches with colours. Photo studios thus were hubs of commercial artists,” says Ashvin. A bit of the show pays homage to this half of historical past. 

 A walkabout throughout 90 such frames lends fascinating views to a class of art that has hardly ever been studied or documented. “Commercial art is not commercial in that sense. It is still built on art that is as ‘fine’ as any other form,” concludes Ashvin.

The exhibit is on view until July 17 at Ashvita’s, Dr Radhakrishnan Salai.

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