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Actor Sivakumar's brush with art

Tuesday, 25 October 2016
Mariayn Jennifer & M Bharat Kumar

Sivakumar has been re-inventing himself from his youthful days. He started out as an artist, turned into a movie artiste and is now winning accolades as a speaker. As if returning back to his roots, Sivakumar has showcased 100 of his paintings at an exhibition that opened in Chennai Monday.

A large portrait of Mahatma Gandhi welcomes visitors to the exhibition. Done in 1966, this painting is one of the many portraits of eminent personalities. Sketched to the minute detail, it shows that Sivakumar has exceptional talent as an artist.

A man of many talents, Sivakumar has done several spot paintings. The Tiruvannamalai gopuram, sketches of Mumbai - then Bombay - in the '60s, Ranganathaswamy temple, Srirangam, Ekambareswarar temple in Kanchipuram, the temple tank with reflections of the Tirupati temple gopuram are some of his devotional picks.

Each of these canvases is a colourful picture of the raw reality the place is. The temples do not stand in solitary glory as there is always human interest in the paintings. The use of light and shadow, brush strokes, depth has proved that the brush has indeed been the extension of the artist's hand. 

Several of his works have been done from various parts of the country. A stunning replica of Delhi drawn when he was 18, was the artist's first use of water colours. Water proof sketch mixed with Hong Kong cake and water, which resembles a pencil sketch, seem to be to Sivakumar's liking. 

His choice of 'subjects' are many. A canvas on the movie <I>Ten Commandments, <P>which has three roles merged into one - namely the prince, shepherd and prophet - all played by Charlton Heston, has been detailed to perfection. Another was just a blend of selected colours, namely orange, pink, Prussian blue and amber.

Several references from the 'John Bull' magazine took fair space in the show. 

An 'absolute' image drawn from a still of Sivaji Ganesan, a 'wash drawing' work of actress Padmini look awesome. They were, in fact, the exact replica of the actors themselves. 

Unfinished water colour art was the title of another. He (artist) has said that his colours have run dry and, hence, the incomplete canvas. But, it actually does not look half-done. 

One of the unique talents of an artist is to capture the likeness of moving objects, in this case, water. The Courtallam falls, Gandhi mandapam in Kanyakumari with waves lashing around and Vivekananda Rock Memorial come in this category. The artist says that the trick is to  capture the moving waves. 

Reviving olden times, Sivakumar has brought back memories from the past. A spot painting of Mumbai in 1972, boating in Chennai Cooum in 1962, Victoria Technical Institute on Mount Road in 1961 with bullock carts and bird's eye view of Madurai city in 1962 (depicting time and shadows) shows how the cities once were. 

Modern art, too, had a place in the line-up. Titled New Era Modern Art, it has a new version of people playing instruments. Sketches of sculptures and animals done with a fountain pen, nude women from 'Playboy' magazine and an aesthetic nude woman with bindi and bangles deserve special mention.

Nature life has not been ignored with various pieces on the garden of College of Arts and Crafts that tell their tale. Some of the highlights include a picture the High Court in Hyderabad done in three minutes from a movie bus.

His best were portraits. The likeness of K Balachander, Nehru, Gemini Ganesan, Nagesh, an oil painting of a look-alike image of Bernard Shaw, N S Krishnan, an image of his classmate done with left hand, a piece on Suriya when he was a toddler and a self-portrait show his prowess with the brush. The pictures were exact replicas and it made one wonder if they were photographs.

The uniqueness in his model series are the 3D effect. Use of crayons, pastel, Kent sheet without use of white paint elevated his works.

With over 100 paintings on display, the show is on till 26 October at Lalit Kala Akademi.

Inaugurated by the former principal of the Government College or Arts and Crafts, Alphonso Das, the valedictory will see the release of a coffee table book of his art works on 27 October.


We all know Sivakumar as a wonderful actor. But he is a great artist too. He went through formal training in painting at Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, before he ventured into acting.

Speaking to 'News Today' at a painting exhibition organised by his sons and popular actors Suriya and Karthi on the occasion of his 75th birthday, Sivakumar said, "I feel reborn with my art being celebrated, about which I was always proud - more than any other achievements. I will be happy if the future generation is benefited through this painting exhibition."

He commenced his career as an artist and moved to the film industry as an actor in 1965 with 'Kaakkum Karangal'. He acted in 192 films. An excellent orator, his speeches on 13 topics including Ramayana and Mahabharat, are very popular among people.

He says, "The period 1959 to 1965 was the best period in my life when I studied at Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai. My feelings were akin to that of a dove that leaves its cage for the very first time and spreads its wings in flight in the wide open skies, experiencing great awe and wonderment."

"The six years that I spent in that college, with peers, both boys and girls of my age, who were equally talented in art, was undoubtedly the spring time of my life," he said.

With no qualms about any future plans, at the break of dawn, with just a paper and brush, like a nomad, I wandered the streets of Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, Thanjavur, Kanyakumari, Tirupati, Tiruvannamalai, Ajanta-Ellora, Delhi and Agra, drawing sketches, eating only what I was able to get food and sleeping on platforms for many days. I adore those sketches and paintings as much as my own children, he said.

"The total cost of wandering all over India for seven years and drawing my sketches was a mere Rs 7,500," he explained.

"To survive, I ate three simple meals a day, owned only few sets of clothing and slept on the floor much like a saint and those years remain precious to me as I had noble goals and felt proud about my achievements through paintings," he says.

(Photos taken at the inauguration of the art exhibition.)

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