Holland-based artist VN Aji has a touch of humour. When a female journalism student asks him, with an impish smile, whether any girl offered to marry him after seeing his drawings, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, Aji says, “Not yet.” This elicits a loud laugh from the girl.
As Aji talks, suddenly, a foreigner, in a black sherwani, comes up and hugs him. “So nice to see you, friend,” says Aji, to the Italian artist Francesco Clemente. Warm smiles are exchanged. Then Francesco looks keenly at Aji’s works.
They are untitled, but Aji’s forte is doing charcoal drawings on paper. In one, 8’ 2”, there are thick shrubs in the front with a vast undulating land behind it. Up above is a forbidding dark sky, with thick white clouds, at one side. “It began as a landscape of Kerala and then it went off in a different direction,” he says. “There is rain at one side.”
Like many artists, Aji likes to ask questions. “Where do we come from? Where do we go? Who am I? What is life? What is death?” he says. “These are some of the subjects that I am exploring in my work.”
In another work, he has drawn a seashore, with the waves hitting the shore in a crash of white foam. The sky is jet black and so is the shore. Despite the blackness, it looks like a scene from a Kerala coastline.
“I was born and brought up in Kerala,” he says. “So every cell of mine is a Malayali. And that gets reflected in my work. The Netherlands has also influenced me in my art.”
Aji’s life changed when he met and fell in love with Dutch artist Juul Kraijer at a camp in Thiruvananthapuram. “The attraction between human beings is always a mystery,” he says. “But since we are both artists we could find a mutual wavelength.”
They got married in 2000 at Thiruvananthapuram. Ever since, Aji has been based at Rotterdam. He says the biggest advantage of being based in Europe is that he is able to see world-class art, both contemporary and historical, all the time. “At any moment I can go and observe the works of Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin or Vincent van Gogh,” he says. “When you see their paintings, you get an idea of the talent, dedication and hard work needed to produce timeless art,” he adds.
● Aji was born in Kallissery, Kerala
● He has been living and working in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for 10 years.
● The geographical and cultural space between India and Holland stimulates his interest.
● The blackness of his charcoal extends over the entire paper.