The image of a charged-up little boy losing in a game of football near his home at Vallarpadam in Kochi stoked artist Sunil Vallarpadam’s imagination. That essence of childhood, which was just strokes on a white paper initially, soon evolved into a great green canvas. Somewhere along the process an even bigger cause—of a colourless childhood—attached itself to it.
Sunil’s latest work, ‘Where Are You’, which was exhibited recently at Kochi, is an ode to missing children, abused childhood, hunger and exodus. Celebrating his 25-year journey with the art, Sunil says this series echoes his concern.
“‘Where Are You’ is a reminder about children whose lives are stolen from them. Refugees, terrorist attacks, disasters, dreams lost in the factories of Sivakasi, hunger and malnutrition, my works bleed from their pain,” says the artist, who has no formal education in art.
Painting brought a certain discipline to Sunil’s life, who took to art under the tutelage of artist P V Nandan. His works were the by-product of his pent-up creative energy.
Usually, Sunil does not choose themes of his work intentionally. “I usually don’t pick up the theme first. Stolen childhood isn’t an intentional choice. It was just that the image of the boy losing in the game stayed in my mind. But once I began to work on it, the cause inadvertently came in and it remains powerful too,” says the 45-year-old artist.
In fluorescent green shade, staring at us is a boy with forlorn eyes, which reflect the suffering inflicted on him. The green shade might come across as an irony, but Sunil Vallarpadam would rather call it artistic liberty.
“But I have had countless debates on this. Many said that it took away the reason. I believe it is the other way. I feel the bright colour hints at hope for a better tomorrow. It is the silver lining, something that helps them look forward to,” says Sunil. “This is one reason why I resort to repeating a style. Repeating images pushes the message further into the viewer’s mind. It is as simple as an advertisement being repeated.”
Human figurines may dominate Sunil’s latest series but the artist has more on his palette. Everything from owls to monkeys to fish, form his subjects. It is not surprising for someone born and raised in the idyllic Vallarpadam, known for its rich flora and fauna.
“I could never overlook the natural richness. One reason animals, birds and nature find a space on my canvas is the sense of belonging they give to me. I love being in the dense forests. There is a certain intimacy. It is what prompts me to make birds, monkeys and fish my subjects. My upcoming series is ‘Air’,” says Sunil, whose private collections also feature at galleries in London, France and Germany.
Sunil is all articulate when he speaks about ‘Air’.
He shares how he got all excited on seeing the aerial view of an agricultural land during an art camp in Palakkad.
“The series has aerial views of ponds, canal and even disappearing greens. It has a slight philosophical overview to it. In an aerial view, all you see is a flat surface. I wanted to reflect on how people who have climbed the heights of wisdom see things equal,” says Sunil, who mostly works on acrylic.
He says he is so enamoured by the thought and the concept of air that he is planning all his future works on that concept.
The artist, who won the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Award for painting in 2016, has been conducting shows since 2005. His works were also exhibited at a group show, ‘The Bad and Mad Show’, at Durbar Hall a week ago.