Published in The Hindu Metro Plus by Sujatha Shankar. Kodaikanal offers the right ambience that helps its artist community lend wings to their imagination Date: 26th May 2017
Dense foliage brushes against my car as I drive through the winding path to Adam Khan’s 35-year old home in the second-oldest settlement of Kodaikanal. As I reach Khan’s makeshift wooden turnstile to keep the gaur out, the rest of the world fades away and I am pulled into an ethereal stillness. The house of stone seems to have no walls. Khan likes to paint in his studio by a large window, where wild flowers pop their heads in. “I’ve managed to keep the world away, but I don’t know for how much longer. I’m living in a time warp,” says Khan. A loud chirrup from a Malabar squirrel on the treetop breaks the silence. Originally from UK, Khan muses, “The missionaries were scared of snakes and it was all mud when I came here. I looked for plants I did not have to water. At the beginning, there were just marigolds and lupines. I made this. This garden is me.” Khan’s painting is a juxtaposition of light and form. He does not use brushes, and applies oil-paint with his hands directly, because he wants a contact with his artwork. Khan infers, “India was a way of finding myself; why I am here on this planet, beyond eating, procreating and dying. Painting for me is meditation.”
Landscape on canvas In another part of town, near the old Swedish settlement, Vera de Jong who moved here from Canada, lives by the edge of a forest. In Vattakanal, artist Edwin Joseph creates impressionistic renderings of waterfalls and forests in thick fleecy strokes. Veteran artist Jitendar Nath, better known as J Nath, settled here in the 1980s with his wife Jaya. His canvasses occupy permanent spaces in many homes in Kodaikanal, as at The Carlton hotel, the first to commission large paintings.
Finding home American artist Ann Peck first came here in the 1970s with her husband Bruce Peck. Bruce had been schooled at Kodaikanal International School and felt a deep connection to this place. Says Ann, “The most interesting and heartfelt thing about Kodai is that it is here we began to be known as artists.” While the languid pace of the hills allowed Bruce to set up a workshop and pursue his etching, Ann began a fresh style of painting on silk with fabric dye and Sumi ink, inspired by India’s scenic landscapes. “I’ve found everything I need here! Where better than India to get silk?” she counters. At SAMA Farms, Sarala Daruwala and Biswajit Banerjee of Artworld, Chennai, have opened Shigeatsu Gallery this summer. The minimalistic building overlooks a vast scenic valley shrouded in mist. “It took me 10 years to build this place. I started in 2007 and I have put all my savings into this dream,” says Banerjee, who visualised a creative centre where different kinds of arts practice could come together. In 2006, they hosted 30 artistes from across India for a camp in Kodaikanal at a local retreat, Stonycroft. “The artists produced incredible works,” says Banerjee, who was encouraged by the proceeds of sales from this early experiment. The couple intends to sponsor artists, providing a generous honorarium and a retreat. In return, these artists-in- residence will create artworks. Sarala wants to invite artists to engage with the children of the local villages. “They don’t teach them any singing and dancing here at schools.”