Remembering a very special friend

Writing about K. C. S. Paniker at once evokes many memories of variegated hues about which a whole book can be written. We were not only classmates but also happily shared a room for more than two years. This was an unforgettable period in my life for many reasons. It was full of fun, amusing anecdotes, hard work, simplicity of lifestyle and above all a common philosophy based on an artist's perception of the visual world. Among other things it was he who got me interested in reading books, for which I remain indebted to him even today.

A strong desire to pursue art as a vocation made him give up a cushy job at the Madras telegraph office carrying a monthly salary of two hundred and fifty rupees and the luxury of owning a German made motorbike. He joined the Govt. School of Art and Craft on a monthly stipend of rupees fifteen only. This was proof of his deep conviction that his future lay in devoting himself totally to the muse of art for the rest of his life.

As a student Paniker was initially interested in painting landscapes in watercolour. The sun-drenched scenery of his native Malabar fascinated him. The play of light and shadow on the lush flora and its reflection on the backwaters of the region attracted him endlessly. Over the years he acquired masterly skill in the handling of the difficult medium of transparent watercolour. By the time he passed out of the art school he could paint a landscape almost blindfold. Such was his control over his chosen medium. No wonder he earned considerable appreciation from our guru Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and class mates as well.

The daily class routine was divided into two distinct sessions; the morning session was devoted to drawing from live male or female nudes or doing portraiture. In the afternoon students were encouraged to paint from his or her own imagination. In both the classes, there was keen competition between Paniker and myself and we constantly tried to outdo each other. This healthy rivalry` between us was encouraged by our guru in order to get the best out of us and we enjoyed it enormously.

During the training at the art school Paniker showed no interest in doing any painting with figures although in the morning session he studied the human figure from various angles and also drew portraits in pencil, crayons or coloured chalks. However within a few years after passing out, he stopped painting landscapes altogether and devoted entirely to doing compositions with figures which, in terms of form, bore some resemblance with south Indian sculptures, especially Chola bronzes. Later such figurative works were replaced with Neo- tantric compositions replete with geometric diagrams and scribbling which were not meant to be deciphered.

The present exhibition consists mostly of studies from life portraits and full figures done between 1950 and 1955. Many of his other drawings and paintings now hang in the collection of the gallery in Trivandrum named after him. These drawings of men and women, the latter being mostly in the nudes are remarkable in their masterly treatment with sensitive lines and tones to bring out the essential character and the perfect anatomy of the model. Looking at them my mind travels back to Paniker's early days in the art school when he (also the present writer) found it a trifle difficult to get the proportions of the full figure right. But we were quirk to learn and our guru facilitated us in this.

Judging from the dates given on the drawing. I get the feeling that these excellent academic studies were probably done during his teaching period at the art school which he joined as a teacher soon after he finished his diploma course. He was later appointed as the principal of the art school and within a short time turned it into a college with a full -fledged degree course.

He was also the pioneering spirit behind the Cholamandal, the fruit of the co- operative effort of many artists under Paniker's leadership and which soon put South Indian art firmly on the map of contemporary Indian art. I conclude this short essay by paying my sincere respect to the memory of an artist friend whose company enriched my life enormously.

Paritosh Sen


12/10/ 2005

Published by Sarala's Art Centre.

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