The Painter Who Never Painted                                                                                     

Ka.Ve. Balakumaran
Eezhanatham, 2005

     The name, artist Pugazhenthi has become new force to those who are clamouring for liberation. It means that through his paintings he offers broad moral support to the suppressed people. He came here with twenty seven paintings when we are just about to enter an important stage in our journey for liberation. The messages delivered by his painting exhibition were many. He has taught the history of our struggle through paintings. He gave us the confidence and hope of victory. He operated the nerves of comradeship, friendship. We saw him along with his paintings that can not be separated. For us living life is a struggle, painting seems to be his life. We fight carrying weapons. He fights through his paintings. After 20 years of continuous hard work he has become a movement in painting, politics and society. It is the culmination of integration of all those with like mindedness at different levels.

     ‘I have appointed my brush as the representative of darkness’. These words of Pugazhenthi have multi international dimensions and ramifications. Light is within darkness. Only if you feel darkness you will search for light. In the small, but sharp bright eyes of Pugazhenthi I saw the darkness of pain and suffering. This pain has not come from the sufferings of Tamils in Tamilnadu. It does not all come only from the sufferings of the Tamils of Tamil Eelam. It has come from the sufferings of humanism in the world. I have joined myself with the sufferings he must have undergone owing to this attempt. This is a wonderful healthy, painting dimension which arises in the background of the artistry through which Tamil identity is juxtaposed with international identity and meet at a point.

     When I studied his paintings standing along with other people at Kilinochi’ hall of Aesthetic Society, many kinds of feelings arose in me. Colours became more and more hot and intensified owing to pressure after pressure. They were almost in a state of catching fire. Suddenly paintings disappeared and men came out of them. They began to talk with us, behind was heard explosion, attack. The blood shed by it fell on the tortured humanism and there emanated the smell of blood. Shock waves spread in the minds of the visitors. They were worried and shocked. They began to immerse fast in the mud pit of sadness. Then they climbed up slowly and calmed down. Very few showed reaction. Why do you make us remember the difficult path we have traversed. They murmured that hope giving paintings only should have been given. Pugazhenthi gave a smile only as a reply for all these.

     One truth struck me at that time. Pugazhenthi’s paintings slap on the faces of men. That gives rise to pain. What should we do to remove pain? We should find out the ways to remove it. Therefore, you get a quick answer. Only the paintings that give darkness give birth to light. Therefore, Pugazhenthi has been converted into a people’s artist.

     The way in which he proves the rules governing history through painting, is unique. Many asked him how he could draw so well with out undergoing the actual sufferings. They also realized the reason without being answered. All the pain and sufferings we have undergone he has also undergone. He suffered them while doing the painting. That is the outward expression of his painting. It is not only artistic expression but all the expression of his comradeship, friendship. Since our misery has been brought out through the world language of painting, this suffering has become a glorious contribution to humanism, to human liberation and through that he got us international recognition. This is an act that elevates the quality of liberation struggle. Semmani with Venmani, Kuttimani with Bagat sing, Chandra Bose with Mao, Lenin, Che and, Fidel with Prabakaran and Dileepan, Jallianwallah Bagh massacre with Valvettithurai genocide, all of them are brought out as “Unslumbering Colours” and then they become the crystallized history of the 20th century. This is an intellectual based artistic activity, outward showing of revelations to international politics. In this context our people may remember artist Veera Santhanam. In 1980’s With black beard, deep eyes, long range look, this good friend, Veera Santhanam’s paintings broadly spoke the sufferings and miseries of the suffering Tamils. He gave great courage through his paintings. As a continuation of the painter of the shadow like Santhanam, now we have artist Pugazhenthi. Nothing is wasted. The shared comradeship, the blood shed, the lives lost, the price given, all these cannot be destroyed by times since they have become permanent crystals. They have become smuggled weapons for the next generation. As it is written in the foreword, burning colours are seeds sown, words pronounced. Similarly all lines drawn are never idle. They are active continuously. They act slowly “as the tortoise moves up the hill.” But they move and push us continuously towards the goal.

     Like me, many do not know much about painting. But all of them know that those paintings speak about our life. Still the attention of the public is not much attracted towards it. They do not know it is for them and that it has the power to speed up their liberation. It is not being taught to them. They think that painting is a very deep, fine art, rare, and alien and far beyond their reach. There may be many reasons for this mentality. Paintings in palaces, monasteries, churches and God based and Government supportive paintings and later paintings against suppression, dictatorship raised their voice. Today we have modern paintings, with novelty and difference which are well received by the people. There is also computer drawing as a result of technological growth. We find this as consumers’ high enjoyment art and extension of the world of films. When painting is about to reach a new outlet, since it is has a frightening quality for the confused spectator, he gets inferiority complex unable to understand it. When it expressed the deep thoughts of individuals once again it
becomes alienated from the common man.

     There is a stalemate or a crisis here. Even though there are various stages, there is one fundamental question regarding painting. It has been raised for a very long time. When man learnt language for the first time, painting was his first language. Then painting has become alien to man. Without knowing an answer for this, it is useless to talk about promotion of painting as an art. This is the question put by society’s welfare based artist Pugazhenthi. Only here Pugazhenthi becomes a man worth observing. Here only we have to give importance to the politics created by Pugazhenthi’s paintings and politics they speak.

     Since paintings did not speak of things essential for people, their history was not recorded in painting. The revealing of individuals in painting has created chasm between people and paintings. This is the clear answer by Pugazhenthi. His journey starts from here, this answer. It is correct fundamental logical answer.

     Therefore, from the roots of old orthodox idea new principle is born. This is a principle founded on the intellect based on history and supported by science. As Bharathi sang, paintings must be useful so that in the universe, love and peace may last, sufferings and pain may die and all people should live happily. People who move towards dawn, oppose suppression and try to smash oppression must have their activities recorded and at the same time paintings must give them the inner courage and moral support at both levels. This is the only way to narrow down the gap between paintings and the people. Here only Pugazhenthi plays a role. Because he was born in Thumpathikottai in Thanjavur District and hence being a Tamil of Tamilnadu or after 1983 July, racial annihilation period, taking a pro stand on behalf of Eelam Tamils is not very important. The important question is what is his language in painting. In what category he has broken all obstacles or barriers. (“In support of Tamil Eelam struggle, against apartheid in South Africa, in support of Palestinian liberation, against caste and religious atrocities, against oppression of women, against all types of ruling class oppression, what a poem, a short story, or literature could do to change society, the same thing can be done by painting. I have this conviction. ‘My individuality or uniqueness is man. Standing by the side of man, and understanding his crises I translate them into painting. My activity is to approach human problems through sociological outlook) and paintings are created.’ Therefore he is changed to artist revolutionary or art based rebel.

     Here only a message pierces through. People create ways to attain their goals. They take many tools to go along that way. Normally, people take weapons in their hand on the violent path to attain their goal, because they are controlled by weapons and suppressed by the ideas of the ruling class. Therefore when they take up arms the idea of getting released from thoughts of oppression, cutting off the chains become very necessary. In that manner Pugazhenthi takes painting as an intellectual weapon or weapon of ideas and as a symbol of his idealism. Others also take painting as an instrument or tool. But they use it only for themselves, for their own ideas and give preference only for their own life. Or they imagine that they modernize painting.

     Here only Pugazhenthi fits in and his style is very different. It is revolutionary for knowledge and understanding. He is a continuous thread in the attempt to find a way out from the continuous misery of human pain. How great a service is this? His paintings have Tamil identity. His people have international identity. His paintings which speak of Tamils’ sorrow, speak of international sorrow too. His feminine figures have Tamil identity. The Tamil woman’s ages and ages of lines of sorrow, flow down as blood. This is the identity of our society. He is there in all the attempts to bring light into the life of darkness of the cursed people. His curved lines and strong colours point out those who are irascible. The longing in the eyes of Dileepan, the calmness mixed with sorrow on the face of Prabakaran change within us into that faces that turn in the lava of volcano. It is the chemical change of colours by Pugazhenthi, the researcher in humanology.

     In the function arranged to express our regard and thanks, he spoke very vehemently. Sacredness in paining – my foot, artistic finesse – oh brinjal – shape for the people? Or people for the shape? Colours and lines are my tools. Only here Pugazhenthi is identified as rebel. He is praised as a revolutionary. Why! He has yielded his knowledge of shapes, colour mixing, artistic nicety to a great aim and purpose. Truly lines and colours serve him in order that he may serve people. This is one dimension of movement, logic of art, perfection of painting. Here Bernard Shaw’s idea becomes connected. “Do you know which is the greatest happiness in life”. “It is allowing yourself for the great aim you have chosen for yourself. Instead of living gossiping it is better to be nature’s law for change. I want to be used up totally before I die. Life is not at all a small candle. It is a wonderful bright light. Before I hand it over to the next generation I want to make it burn as bright as possible”. So, Pugazhenthi throws away the aesthetic and nicety. By doing so he makes paintings non existent. One visitor said, “I came to see paintings but the paintings were not there”. Here is the revolution made by Pugazhenthi. He has shrunk the gap between life and painting into zero. Truly, he is an artist who never painted. He has not become a slave of the artistic finesse. He has enslaved it.

     Whether Pugazhenthi likes it or not, even in his intensely hot paintings I find the artistic finesse and shape. New buds from the old roots; very old, ancient human suffering in modern painting; Although he is influenced by modern art. After getting out of it, his attempt in avoiding experiments and apstract forms are for the sake of people. The quality of not avoiding the aesthetic is the expression of his artistic mind. He says in an interview “I have the desire to express traditional forms in paining. That work also has started, what I have to draw in future will be decided by time and environment”. All these are spoken by the artist, in pugazhenthi.

     What can we do to him who speaks of our liberation politics through painting? We should release humanism from the hands of the aggressors and hand it over to men with love and kindness. Removing darkness from this endless struggle and strengthening it and adding nutrition to it through his paintings, he always lives with us. This is the request and hope of all the Tamil Eelam hearts which melted with comradeship and friendship.