Rajan M.Krishnan is fifty two years old now. Technically it is a wrong sentence. The sentence should have been prefixed with ‘had he been alive’. For many Rajan is past but for many more Rajan is still present. If I say artists have only a life after death then Rajan is having that life in the minds of many of the admirers of his works. Seen from a different perspective the world art scene is sadistic, callous and cruel; it just doesn’t care about the living artists especially if they are not able to create economic value in the auction market. It looks at the artists the way a cat looks at a lizard fallen right in front of from the ceiling; dazed, broken and in absolute pain. It derives a lot of pleasure from the pains of the artists and it calls the pain, ‘seasoning’.
The story of Rajan was different and is different too. He had found his niche market and finding that market was against all odds. He had no godfathers in the art scene, nor did he have a huge gallery to support him. During the initial phase of the art market boom, Rajan just fresh from the pressure cooker of no-market and no-hope situation, Rajan found himself working with a few upstart gallerists like late Anoop Scaria of Kashi Gallery, Aditya Ruia of Bombay Art Gallery and then to the one and only Bodhi Art Gallery. Bodhi’s withdrawal from the art scene had made many unstable as the pace of its monetary promotion was steep and the glamour quotient was sharp. Which artist had walked a red carpet before Bodhi came to the art scene. Rajan walked on a red carpet at the Bodhi Gallery extension at the Boribandar Dockyard where his magnum opus installation ‘Ore’ was presented.
Rajan did not fall with Bodhi. He had not flown that high to forget his roots, which he started painting a lot in the post-Bodhi phase. With a strange sense of rootedness and sense of belonging to his own people, right from a provision shop owner to the struggling and aspiring artists around him, he survived the tremors left by the Bodhi Gallery with its choicest disappearance. He went on working with a few galleries in Kochi and in Mumbai, while doing moderately well in the art market. He could manage to make his studio in Kochi and also his dream artists’ retreat at his wife Renu Ramanathan’s native Irinjalakkuda in Thrissur district. Titled ‘Walden Pond’ the Thoreau-like retreat was/is his reiteration of an idea that the couple together held close to their hearts; a place for people, not ordinary people but creative people who could retreat in order to make paintings, sculptures, make music, experiment with bodies and theatrical space and of course do what the anti-war flower power generation had proposed.
Taking his people along, Rajan did his paintings alone and also in groups. He helped artists in doing their works and showcasing them in solo and group projects. Together Renu-Rajan couple held soirees at their Kochi residence entertaining visiting art people and also reveling with the local friends who came to wine, dine and do some intellectual talks. Rajan enjoyed his man of the people image but at the same time he held himself back to his studio, working alone till one day he collapsed. He took his people along when he did his magnum opus installation project, ‘Ore’. He not only involved the fellow artists who admired him but also the students from the nearby colleges. The whole contingent had gone to Mumbai to attend his show, celebrating his exhibition as their own. While Rajan walked the red carpet, they stood in the dark courtyard on the side of the gallery and celebrated their friend’s victory.
Rajan, however had not started off as an artist who did his works together with people; on the contrary he stood back and observed people. The first lot to fall into his ken was the lot of the people who were disposed and deprived of worldly possessions. If Blue Period was the dark period of Picasso, the ‘Black Little Drawings’ (Karivarakal) were his ‘Black Period’ only to bloom into his sunny blues and royal greens. The interim period was sunny, green and happy. As he moved further in his career, he couldn’t have avoided the struggle around. He went into a grey mood, reflecting the same in his work. He saw soot, rust and death around him; the dilapidated buildings were greying and rusting, so were the thickets and shrubs. He identified with those people like Kallen Pokkudan who fought against the people who destroyed the kandal forests. Rajan saw it and he identified with the struggle. He knew that there was a conflict of interest in his struggle. He was doing well in a good studio and he knew the real estate that surrounded him had come up on the marshy land where once the kandal forests stood. This was the criticality that Irit Rogoff had once proposed as an interim phase between critique and criticism. One has to live with criticism and critique in a situation called criticality. Rajan knew this well.
That must be the reason why he started harking closer to earth capturing the minute noises of the seeds breaking open, jack fruits blessing the tree as if it had never done. It was like setting up cornucopia for the nature in his canvases. It was his subconscious effort to pay tribute to the dying earth. Did he know that he too was dying? The greys had not completely gone from his canvases. Like a cloud laden sky it loomed large reflecting the grey areas of history; the twilight and gloomy zone of our contemporary socio-political existence. The occasional blues brought cheers to his works otherwise. Also the greens became a permanent presence almost pushing the rusts and greys behind in memory. He knew a journey was in the offing; that must be the reason why he painted horses coming out of the sea or standing still at the sea shore as if the whole scene belonged to a Passolini movie. He knew either he has to go or he has to receive a messenger. These are my projections, need not necessarily be true. That’s how a friend remembers a dead friend; projections create an alter-reality which is more palatable that the art historical reality that I myself might create in a different time.
How are we going to locate Rajan in art history? It is a question that has been haunting me for quite some time. And I have the answer now. Rajan was/is one artist who walked against the contemporary art trend that highlighted a-historical glossiness as the hallmark of contemporary art. Some had foolishly believed that history was dead and gone especially in the case of contemporary art. They did not know that art could never survive if history ceases to exist. Rajan knew this. While everyone painted hyper real and photorealistic images and moments without history, he alone painted the rusting and decaying zones of lands around him. He knew a history that was forced to stand still would eventually rust and decay. He wanted a dynamic history; the local landscape and the iconic trees could provide that to him. His horses, not many in number could give him the force of history; a sort of Husain moment for him. Rajan did not paint ‘human scenes’ like many a contemporary artists. Instead, he painted the places where people could have been and the cruel times that had erased them from there. Therefore Rajan’s works are the metaphors of forced absences; that has been our history till recently.