The images are familiar, delineated into a perfect set of signs. Hieroglyphics of art. Conjured up from the Bhimbetka paintings in India and those in the caves of Lascaux, France, the pictures bring alive the magic and mystery of prehistoric times. The cycle has turned full circle with the same strong symbols coming alive, rejuvenated by the hands of artist Premalatha Hanumanthiah Seshadri. Premalatha’s earlier work consisted of etching, drawings and water colours with fishes, birds and animals like the horse. Then came representations of man. The Hunt” series is reminiscent of the primordial sport of the past. There is also the interpretation of the man-animal form. Says Premalatha: “My sources have always been prehistoric painting where so much of freedom is available even though they had limitations of materials. Colours of clay, earth colours, carbons and pigments were all they had. I too have chosen these colours and try to be pictorially active. It is a strict regimen on yourself to be simple. Austerity in any craft is a great discipline. In keeping with my life, so close to these
To Premalatha the purest of all forms is the line. Thin, thick, short, straight, long, twisted, wavy, interwoven, multidimensional and multidirectional, it pulsates with energy, sensitively bringing alive forms.
experiences, so close to nature, I have tried to bring that discipline of simplicity in my work.” From this work evolved slowly the present state of her work, on show at The Gallery in Madras from December 13 to 30. The work started off as a loose group of experiments called Zen in the mid-Eighties. Premalatha worked on sketches of rocks and shells and invented for herself a series of forms distinct to her work and philosophy. Primary among them was life-sustaining water. There was a lot of search until she hit upon the most basic image of the wavy line to depict water. This abstracted image allowed her free rein to grow. Of this symbol she says: “My sign for water can be made use of in the same proportion of expansion, inwards and outwards, and so can create multiple worlds with the evolution and involution of the cosmos.” Then came the fishes and turtles. “I found the turtle a very interesting form. There was also my childhood association with it when we used to keep ground tortoises as pets. The turtle is one of the images which I associate with water.” As she Was in the midst of these experiments, she was also reading the book “Fractals” by Mandelbrot. Her scientist-husband, Dr. C. V. Seshadri, explains: “Nature creates clouds, ripples, birds, human beings and many shapes whose precise mathematical descriptions are not known.
Fractals is a mathematical term for newer attempts to break down irregular objects into smaller and smaller fragments which appear to be part of the universal pattern. When repeated, these patterns form an endless web which then is capable of creating the larger shape. A regular microcosm then becomes a chaotic macrocosm.” For Premalatha Zen and fractals combined into what she now calls her “Zen Fractal” series. “Fractals in computers are very exact. The concept is the same, not the form. The pattern and the structure do not change, only the scales vary — from the minimal to visions of the grand. These truly inspired me,” she says. Here her attempt to comprehend the complex patterns in nature and break them into simplified codes with her personalized set of symbols has enabled her to produce some astonishingly simple work that stands on its own, simply because of its integrity. Enter the birds which she has studied for many years and which have appeared in her earlier work too. They are tall, long-limbed, stork-like, crane-like creatures. These too came from a long-cherished childhood memory of growing up in Mysore near a bird sanctuary. The birds are simple belonging to no particular species. (This is heartening as the crow seems to have become the fashionable leitmotif of contemporary urban artists.)
They are in the skies and in the vast spaces of Premalatha’s work in many postures. They are seen spreading their wings in slow motion and the susurration of their feathers can be heard in the simple strokes that define the motion. Premalatha’s art is akin to the art of the Zen painters who seek to convey the whole mystery of creation in a few brush strokes, eliminating details and condensing form to its root essence. “I feel I have been successfully graphic with my limited choice of colour as most of my art is a highly developed line. It is a suitable choice for me. The lines have refined themselves into a bewildering simplicity where, in an unusual fashion, I have managed to convey all the forms I have played with. This does not mean I am unable to understand complete studies in flesh,” says Premalatha. Premalatha graduated from the Government College of Arts and Crafts in Madras in 1970 and then studied block printing in Hyderabad.
Her interim years saw her teach art and spend time in England on a scholarship. In the early Eighties she studied printmaking at the Garhi Studios in Delhi and also spent time designing and working at the dyeing and printing studios at Gandhigrarn in Madurai (Tamil Nadu). Her newest work is on light and she has called the series “Zen Light” where she wants light to be articulated in a completely different manner. “Little children draw the sun and its rays are light. Artists over the ages have depicted light in the form of wondrous landscapes, but I want to graphically represent the light spectrum, the seven varnas as mentioned in our sastras. The light I want to suggest is abstract. I want to see light at all levels, natural and artificial. I also want to fuse it with my water drawings, so a synthesis in terms of visual movement could be represented by static light and active water.
As the two energies fused, these elements proved very worthwhile to me as a theme. Structurally some forms look like mandalas but no religious meanings or no such interpretation is to be associated with it. In my experiments during the search for representation of light I tried to encapsulate some ideas in these forms.” To Premalatha, pure forms are very useful. The purest among them is the line. Thin, thick, short, straight, long, twisted, wavy, interwoven, multidimensional and multi-directional, it pulsates with energy, sensitively bringing alive forms. Her personal philosophy of simplicity has pushed her work so far. Without details of embroidery and embellishment, the work is direct, honest and real, just as nature is in reality.