Art inspires with accidents and epiphanies. For G Prathapan, a figurative artist from Konni in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, inspiration happened on a riverbank. He was pained to see plastic bottles and packets floating by in the tide. He was shocked to see a tiny fish floating inside a water-filled condom where it had choked to death. It was the same old story of industrial progress versus nature and the artist decided to use his craft to open the eyes of the world to the damage man was bringing to the environment.
It took Prathapan five years to create this body of work done with a black pen on the subject for upcoming exhibitions that will be held in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, in April. “The earth is being suffocated by plastic, and it has become an obsession with me to oppose it,” says the 41-year-old artist. “Plastic waste is a worldwide concern.”When the Kaarisilta Biennale in Finland asked for entries a few weeks ago, Prathapan had sent them some of his work.
In one of the drawings, a seagull which has shoved its beak inside a plastic bottle to gobble down a fish is trapped with its neck stuck in the rim. In another drawing, the bird is replaced by a tortoise. He has also recaptured his memory of the dead fish in the condom on paper. Prathapan has drawn an aquarium filled with fish placed on a sea shore, but with a blanket covering it up. “The fish are asking, ‘Where is the sea?’ They are trapped inside an artificial container made by man,” he says. “Are we doing the right thing?”
Prathapan is one among the 197 artists who have showcased their works at the Kaarisilta Biennale in Finland, and the only one from India. Johanna Immeli, the curator of the Biennale, says: “The jury was very impressed by Prathapan’s drawings.”
The selection vindicated Prathapan’s environmental activism as an artist. “Usually, participation in Biennales is by invitation only. I am glad I caught a break,” says the artist, who has participated in state and national solo and group exhibitions over the years.
If the child is the father of man, its Prathapan’s father who led him to become an artist. He says, “My father was a farmer. But he was also talented. When I was five, I used to watch him sketch leopards, fish and trees on paper using pencils and sketch pens at home in his spare time.” The father’s love for nature had passed to the son. “Soon I started to draw. Pencils worked well for me,” says Prathapan, who has used acrylic, oil and watercolours. “But pencil is my first love.”
Prathapan, who did his Bachelor of Arts from MG University, Kottayam, admires Leonardo da Vinci because he was an artist who was strong in science and made many discoveries in the subject, too. Prathapan also did a five-year diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) from RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Thrippunithura.
“I dream of the day when people will stop using plastic,” says the artist, who wants to continue his campaign against the use of plastic. The artist has won a few state awards. One of his eminent clients is the scientist Jayant V Narlikar.
Now, Prathapan is committed to highlighting ecological issues. “We need to make people aware about how our planet is being destroyed,”he says. For the softspoken painter, taking a hard stand on what he believes in is the essence of art.