He sources his black from the soot accumulating in a clay pot placed over a burning oil lamp. For his red and ochre, he manually grounds saffron and laterite stones, respectively.
Taking a cue from the cave paintings of Ajanta, Thrissur-based artist PK Sadanandan shuns chemically-derived dyes.
He identifies natural materials to arrive at the exact hues he wants. In his ongoing solo show titled ‘Taamara: The Genesis of Nature’ at Bengaluru’s Gallery G in association with Sandeep and Gitanjali Maini Foundation, Sadanandan celebrates the national flower, the Lotus.
Not a common theme for most Kerala artists, the lotus and its symbolism caught on to Sadanandan after his visit to Ajanta and Ellora.
Enamoured by images of the flower held serenely in the hands of many of the figures, it left a lasting impression.
The lotus that we see in most of his works is not merely a flower; it cleanses the area surrounding it. In his works, the flower does not bloom in contaminated water.
It is rather a symbol of purity. Merging the Buddha’s stories with his works, we realise that lotus petals are portrayed as the most meaningful and purest and transparent forms of Mother Nature.
Also known as ‘Shaddhara padma saayyujam’ in yoga, it is at the same time also a symbol of spirituality.
In 2000, this diploma holder in mural painting from the Institute of Mural Painting, Guruvayoor, visited the Ajanta caves and was drawn in by the artworks and the technique.
“I was surprised to find that the 2,000-year-old paintings in natural colours are still intact.”
It was enough to push him on his quest to replicate the natural colours.
He then trained for years using the colours on different surfaces such as canvas, carpets and portable paper.
It was an intensely spiritual voyage for the painter and muralist as he drew inspiration from the Buddha’s Jataka stories, Nature and the Upanishads.
This mural revivalist, who also focuses on mythological themes revolving around gods and goddesses, has helped create a distinctive style with blue being the standout colour. The colour selection is in deviation to the red in most mural paintings of Kerala.
Elaborating on his artwork, Sadanandan says, “My artworks and practices are based on very precise and intense study. I firmly believe that painting or portraying pictures is as complex as doing literary or dramatic works and it requires a serious approach.
"After practicing under my guru’s guidance—he studied under the well-known mural artist Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair—in classical wall art or murals for a long period, I ventured out on my own. I got a great opportunity to interact with fabulous artists from all over India.”
While natural colours and the predominant use of blue may make him stand out from others, there is yet another practice in his oeuvre that marks a first.
Unlike most muralists, Sadanandan uses treated wood panels for his massive artworks. In fact, some of his works in the public domain that have won him critical acclaim are on gigantic pieces of teak.
His mural depicting the tale of Parayipetta Panthirukulam at the Cochin International Airport has got rave reviews, as have the murals created during the renovation of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram.
Expressing a rare fineness in his works, Sadanandan’s figures and forms radiate warmth and gentleness. Even as the colours are exuberant, the fact that they are earthy and derived from Nature, add depth and ethereal beauty to his canvas.