Kochi | A predominantly yellow, orange and black painting of sunset by Kerala’s late art genius Edmund Thomas Clint has an interesting backgrounder largely unknown to the public, who are all the same fascinated by the artwork at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) here.
As the exhibition of the boy prodigy’s select works completes a month today, the newly-opened gallery continues to clock a steady stream of visitors at the historical Jew Town otherwise known for its shops selling ethnic exotica. 79-year-old K J Augustin remembers Clint’s weekly visits to his house in coastal Kochi in the late 1970s. I used to take him around, he says about the prodigy who went on to do no less than 25,000 pictures before his death in 1983 one month short of turning seven.
He remembers Clint being at his house one evening,looking out silently through a window that opened to the sky.The sight of the four-year-old sitting and watching nature for long caught the attention of chief hostess Saramma Augustin, who asked him what he was watching. When Clint replied it was the sunset, she said half jokingly Then why dont you paint a picture of it and gift me? Next weekend, Clint was back with an artwork.The tiny tot had reproduced the past week’s sight in greater glory recounts Augustin, who had worked with the boy’s father M T Joseph at Central Institute of Fisheries Technology at Wellingdon Island here.
This is no ordinary work for his age,notes senior artist Balan Nambiar, about the painting whose high-quality print is now on display among 60 others of Clint at the exhibition, being held as part of the Children’s Biennale of KMB14.
Joseph noted with gratitude his late colleague G Madhavan’s role in spotting Clint’s talent when he was about a year old, with a post script to the ‘sunset painting’ story.
When Saramma received the gift, she asked Clint What if I tell the world that this is my son’s painting? At this, the boy asked her to return it. Only to soon give it back,but after scribbling his name ‘Clint on one corner of the work.
KMB’ 14 Director of Programmes Riyas Komu, the chief organiser of the Childrens Biennale, says his team took immense effort to ensure that the prints at the exhibition were technically on par with the originals. If drawing 25,000 paintings in such short span of life is in itself a major achievement,the boys parents too deserve credit for having stored them over the past three decades, he adds.
The aim of the show is to proclaim the genius of Clint to art circuits far beyond his native Kerala. KMB’14 artistic curator Jitish Kallat describes Clint as one who had ‘a childs view and a grown-ups vision. Bose Krishnamachari,president, Kochi Biennale Foundation, organisers of the 108-day contemporary-art exhibition, notes the sharpness of some texts accompanying some of Clints paintings. For instance, look at that work.’Midukkan Meen’ is the caption given to a smart-looking fish the boy has sketched, he reveals.
Clint’s mother Chinnama reveals her son learned to write Malayalam by when he was two years old.He initially drew the letters of the alphabet, she adds, recalling the appetite he soon developed to read books in his mother tongue and English. MBA student Visakh Anand notes how Chinnamma, as their neighbour in his childhood days, would give boys of his age paintings of Clint as specimens to reproduce.
Krishnamachari, an accomplished Mumbai based artist is all praise for a Clint sketch showing mythological king Ravana sitting in a dejected posture on the evening of the death of his son Meghanath at the hands of Lakshmana, a younger brother of Lord Rama. Notice the sword lying behind Ravana, he says. It is not only symbolic of the Lankan kings imminent end; the weapon balances the picture. Only a master can do it.
Another painting is of a crowded temple festival with caparisoned elephants lined up behind the pagoda like entry gate of the typical Kerala Hindu shrine. That was done after we took Clint to the Ernakulam temple ulsavam, chimes in Joseph, who lives in Kochi. Look at the people in it the men have step-cut hair that was in vogue those days.
Other Clint works at the show include that of vintage state-owned transport buses and peacocks in a chaotic sky, besides on an artist performing ‘Thira’ folk dance it turned out to be Clint’s last painting.
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