BENGALURU: Dhanaraj Keezhara has been a teacher for more than 16 years and an artist all his life. In his latest series of paintings titled ‘Chiaroscuro’, Dhanaraj brings to his canvas the lives of people living on the fringes. As a teacher, he has worked with Christel House India, an NGO in Bengaluru that provides education to slum children.
Through this, Dhanaraj came across many children and their families, each with their own set of struggles and trauma. This inspired him to capture the lives of these children on his canvas and over the past 10 years he been working towards achieving this. When he began work on the series, he decided to use natural colours to capture the duality of light and dark.
“Driven by the motto, ‘return to Nature’, I attempted to develop a distinct style, exploring variations in each painting,” says Dhanaraj.
He adds, “I have personally witnessed the hardships of every subject in my paintings.” But the process to achieve this has not been an easy one. “Just like how the lives of these families are challenging, the medium that I use too has been a challenging one.”
For this particular series, Dhanaraj decided to use the natural colour from tea leaves. Using tea leaves available in the market, he began work on his paintings but soon realised that the colour from tea leaves fade over time.
After several failures, he found out that tea leaves available in the market undergo colour treatment and hence the tea stain fades over time. He then started procuring dried tea leaves directly from plantations in Assam and Coorg with the help of friends. Over the past six years, he has been successful in using tea leaves to obtain colour. He also switched to handmade and acid-free paper on which tea stains lasts longer.
For the show, Dhanaraj will be exhibiting 30 to 36 paintings where he has used charcoal and colour from tea leaves.
To obtain the colour, Dhanaraj boils the tea leaves for hours or even days based on how dark he wanted the colour to be. He would then cool it and continue boiling it to get darker shades. In certain cases, he has boiled tea leaves for 10 days.
Once he achieves his preferred shade, he applies 5-6 layers of the colour on the canvas. “This is a time-consuming process,” he says. Once the background is ready, he works with charcoal for the portraits of his subjects.
Chiaroscuro -The Shades of Light and Life
(Solo show by Dhanaraj Keezhara)
Venue: Belaku Art Gallery, Metro Art Center, M G Road
Dates: May 19-21
Story behind the painting
Dhanaraj first came across the mother and daughter while working with Christel House India. The family of six lived next to a railway line in a hut with plastic sheets as roof. As he spoke to the family members, he understood their hardships, but with the children getting good education, the family was hopeful of a better future.