KOCHI: The untimely demise of popular cartoonist and folklore artist P S Banerji came as a shock to Kerala’s artist community. The 41-year-old creator, who was undergoing post-Covid treatment, succumbed to death on Friday morning. Banerji, who is known for his caricatures, opted to draw even during his last moments on the ICU bed of Thiruvananthapuram Medical College.These drawings, however, stood out from Banerji’s usual style. Besides being colourful and witty, they were sharp narratives of the atmosphere around an ICU atmosphere - eery and damp with apprehension. His friends decided to put these up on social media as a memoir.
Banerji earned a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from Thiruvananthapuram Fine Arts College. One of his college juniors, Naquash, who is currently a faculty at the college remembers a witty Banerji who was loved by everyone and always had a smile to offer. “I heard that he was very weak from fighting pneumonia these last few weeks. It is hard to believe he made these drawings in such a state. This goes on to show how strong his craft was despite a weakening body,” says Naquash.
Hailing from a village in Sasthamkotta, the artist maintained a good circle of friends from across the state. The multi-faceted artist was flawless with caricature and folk music. Cartoonist and publisher Anil Vega talks about what makes Banerji stand out.
“It is rare to find artists who can perform both realistic art and caricature simultaneously. In cartoons, the anatomy of the subject is inaccurate. When the same artist performs realistic painting, his works are bound to have subliminal influences of cartooning. But Banerji is an exception as he has mastered both styles and is known for his colour sense in digital art. His aerial viewpoint is yet another signature style,” says Anil.
Creative artist Jijo Soman who shared an eight years friendship with the artist is weighed down by the fact that he couldn’t complete a portrait that he had promised Banerji. Recalling his final days in the hospital, Jijo says, “He turned Covid negative on July 16, but by then his lungs were weakened by pneumonia.
Though he was not able to use a mobile phone, he asked for a pen and book to write and draw on inside the ICU. He made daily records, like a diary of his final days there. He also wrote about everything he had left to say to us and the world. I think he was doubtful of his future as he had given confidence to his wife and asked her not to panic and be the pillar.”
Banerji was declared recently as one of four beneficiaries of the annual grant provided by Kerala Lalithakala Academy. Chairman of Kerala Cartoon Academy Unnikrishnan K, talks about how adept Banerji was with multiple mediums. “He was known for the illustrations on children’s books published by Balasahithya Institute. Despite being a highly talented artist, he kept a low profile and performed caricature for his friends and loved ones. The caricatures of finance minister Balagopal, MLA Arunkumar and mangrove protector Kallan Pokkudan are quite popular,” says Unnikrishnan.
Banerji could dabble both realistic and carricaure art simultaneously. Though he is known for the illustrations on children’s books, none of his realistic art works has subliminal influences of cartooning.