Poosapati Parameshwar Raju has had teachers, but when it comes to drawing pictorial representations of the Devanagari script on paper, he has beaten a lonely path. The 47-year-old artist, who has brought an exhibition of his paintings to Apparao Art Gallery in the city, is the lone exponent of the art form that he has made his own.
His paintings, a rare blend of the modern and the traditional, most often tell a mythological tale. One of them, for example, shows the famous scene of Krishna teaching Arjuna before the battle at Kurukshetra, but this is like no other painting that you may have seen. For one, this is in calligraphy and so minimalistic that it takes but half-a-dozen strokes of the artist’s hand to portray the flag of Hanuman fluttering above the chariot, where Gita is being imparted.
Raju, who lives in Hyderabad, feels at home in Tamil Nadu. His schooling was at the Sainik School at Amravathi Nagar near Coimbatore. His first teacher, who had a big influence on his calligraphy technique and the first one to teach him how to the hold the pen, was A K Ramavarma. Later, Raju met Prof S V Pendse at the Govt School of Art in Aurangabad, where he had a more solid grounding of technique. After working for years in advertising and design, he has only lately focused on his art though he has been drawing for nearly 25 years.
“For years, I was in corporate design and packaging. That perfected my technique,” he says pointing to the varying thick and thin strokes on a painting of Vishnu on Garuda, which is called ‘Srikara Murti’. “In this painting you will see that there are no additional strokes than what is absolutely necessary. It is abstract, compact and has a deep meaning,” he explains, pointing to the ‘namma’ which represents Vishnu sitting on a beak-less Garuda with a bushy tail. At first, the painting seems beautiful but meaningless, but magically comes to life as Raju’s fingers delineate the details.
Raju is widely travelled and absorbs folklore and stories surrounding temples, gods and their idols, which he then gives prominence in his work. But apart from there is also a series on significant trees from a stay in a sanctuary to another one that includes the stylised formation of
lamps in southern temples. Another series is a celebration of Christianity and Judaism, and including Raju’s version of a Christmas tree.
Lately, Raju has also experimented with a variation in colour to his usual blood-red depictions. “The walnut colour ink that I use for the latest series is more thin and where my stroke begins and ends is more easy to see in these paintings than in the red ones,” he says and soon it is evident that for Raju, every stroke matters.
Raju hails from a warrior community and his forefathers were from Vijayanagaram. “As soon as they stopped fighting, my family took to drawing and were specialists in temple architecture,” he says. Raju’s work combines Indian techniques that he learnt from his grandfather with the more modern influences of the School of Art in Aurungabad. “In Hinduism, the bindi is a spiritual force. So the Indian grid is a sphere or a circle. We see a square as two triangles, which is a basic shape here but in the west the square is a basic shape,” he says, explaining the two styles that he unites in his work.
Asked about why so many of his paintings were suffused with symbols, stories and signs from religion, Raju said, “In our country, religion is something between the individual and god and is not mass-based. I just want to point out that religion is contemporary and relevant too,” he said. Raju has won the state award in 2005 given by the Potti Sriramalu Telugu University in Andhra Pradesh.
(A version of this appeared in The Times Of India)