Jeyaraj's Drawing of Seethapatti and Appusamy
Jeyaraj's Drawing of Seethapatti and Appusamy

Pages of a vintage sketch book

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Volume II records two lakh illustrations drawn for periodicals, textbooks, and movie posters by Jeyaraj by 1980.

CHENNAI: One fine day, the late Kalaingar Karunanidhi during his reign as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu invited an illustrator to his house. He then explained the storyline of his new novel, Thaenpandi Singam. “Draw a ferocious, brave young man, riding a horse swiftly, and add your style of bringing new angles to the picture,” he had said. The next day, the illustrator sent in his work — drawing of a horse from a top-angle view, a style that was not explored then. Amazed by the detailed portrayal of the protagonist, he generously appreciated the illustrator, S Jeyaraj Fernando. His name is etched for his profound works, and is a well celebrated artist today.

On the eve of the second-year commencement ceremony of Chithiraalayam, the Museum of Popular Art, Alwarthirunagar, an interactive session was organised with S Jeyaraj on his 66-year-long career as an illustrator. On audience’s request, Jeyaraj enticed them by drawing a scene of Seethapatti chasing Appusamy.

Jeyaraj was an illustrator for various Tamil periodicals, and Samacheer school textbooks. He began drawing at the age of three. The self-taught artist said, “Many people think an artiste should be able to draw everything when asked to, but an artist can draw only what he sees and can enjoy.” In 1958, he got his first assignment to illustrate a short story written by Ra Ki Rangarajan in the Kumudam magazine, where he worked as a freelancer at a time when only in-house artists were part of the work. “It was S Jeyaraj who paved way for freelance artists to get a platform to draw,” said Maya, a senior artist. He has also designed movie posters and costumes for directors Balu Mahendra and K Balachander, and worked as an art director for Johny.

The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction Volume II records two lakh illustrations drawn for periodicals, textbooks, and movie posters by Jeyaraj by 1980. “I used to sketch 45 illustrations per day. One in every 12-15 minutes, to complete the drawings for the upcoming weeks’ periodical editions, so that I can take a four-week trip with my family,” said Jeyaraj. Though he was famous for his glamorous illustrations of women, the character portrayal of Seethapatti and Appusamy from the story written by Backiyam Ramaswamy, was a breakthrough work. He recounts his wife reading out story scenes and finding references for sketching monuments. Jeyaraj recalled a moment when he received an award from the Lady’s Club of Madras. When a reporter criticised his drawings of female characters, the women present there quipped that portraying the female body beautifully shouldn’t be perceived as vulgar. “His drawings contain detailed illustrations of the fingers in various situations in exact dimensions, which is not common among many illustrators,” said Pattukotai Prabhakaran, Tamil story writer. “His style in drawing objects from different angles and his experimentation with shades of light falling on an object in his black-and-white drawings can be seen in the illustrations of the novel, Pattampoochi. The intricate background drawings in the book Thaenmerku Paruvangal amused the readers,” said Maniam Selvan (Ma Se), illustrator.

Some pages from Jeyaraj’s diary were also showcased at the event. “We can find his diary pages filled with small illustrations in the page corners. They also contain descriptions of Madurai and places he has visited,” said Jayakumar, an artist. Throughout his career, he has seen people being hesitant to showcase their works to him. He addressed his fans and said, “Your work is equally good as that of mine.”

S Jeyaraj’s works will be arrayed in the museum till May 2.

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The New Indian Express