Navneet Mendiratta I New Delhi February 17, 2007
Toss an idea to a perfectionist and see what he does with it. Perhaps he’d work around the idea, look at it from every possible perspective and put it through every possible treatment till he’s satisfied and gets what he wants.
Shibu Arakkal is one such perfectionist, or claims to be one. And to prove his point he tells you of his obsession with curve, which incidentally is also the focus of his latest photoart exhibition – Abstract Notions – showing in Delhi.
“it’s just a thought that crossed my mind. Why are we so obsessed with a curve as against a line?” he asks. To prove his point he illustrates: “Look at the traditional design of a bulb. Why it is shaped like a curve and not a line? I mean, the curve does not contribute to its function!”
Or for that matter, Scandinavian furniture – “it’s more curvy than the modern line and continues to be a favourite the world over…” he says as if to prove his point. And so he set out to unravel the mystery with his camera and imagination. The result has been extraordinary. This is what he calls his other perspective – geometric in form, very abstract.
Just like an artist uses his brush to paint different strokes, Arakkal has used his lens and technology to get the same effect. Look at his pictures from afar and one would never figure out that one image has been replicated, multiplied and then stitched together to get the final effect.
In fact, such has been the effect for some that the photographs look more like a painting than a picture. “Thank God for technology,” he says. “it gives me the freedom to get the size I want, the backdrop that I want and also the life that I’d ideally want for my work. For instance, for these particular works – inkjet on canvas – the technical life promised by the printer (HP) is 150 years. That’s a long life. If you ask me, I’d satisfied even if my buyer gets 50 years’ worth,” he says.
But then this is where the difference lies between an artwork and a photo work. Only, Arakkal begs to differ. “Photography is a new medium. It cannot be projected in the same way as a painting,” he says. He should know better, coming from a family of painters. As Yusuf Arakkal’s son, he was used to having creativity flowing around. So wouldn’t it have been natural that the son followed the father’s footsteps? “Not at all!” he exclaims. “My father was relieved that I did not take to art and decided to become a photographer instead. He simply dreaded the thought of having competition in the house,” he reveals candidly.
Instead, he took happily to having a techno-geek photographer son around and even picked up a thing or two from him. “Like the use of Photoshop, and he even gives me the credit for it!” Shibu laughs. And having learnt that, Yusuf Arakkal has put the technology to good use in his paintings.
What makes Arakkal most happy and satisfied is not having to live under the shadow of his father or counter comparisons. For someone who started out at the age of 13, which now makes it 17 years of experience behind him, 30-year-old Arakkal has come a long way. Not that he’s detached from art. He claims that things could not be better as he’s learnt about the masters through his photography and feels that he’s understood them much better.
For someone who trained under Sudhir Ramachandran and Rafique Sayed for a limited period, the spark is only getting brighter by the day. Why, even his mentor admits: “Arakkal has the heart of a painter and the mind of a photographer. This is a potent combination for a young photographer. He can create his own universe.” And that is exactly he’s set out to do!
One year hence and Shibu is back in town with his first ever solo show for Delhiites. The question is, “Has Delhi finally developed an understanding of the art?” Well, we’d keep our lips sealed. What Shibu brings to Delhi is a balanced potion. It will surely strike a chord with the digital freaks and might also impress a few skeptics. After all which photography exhibition in Delhi has totally unadulterated documentary, portraiture or landscape work. Digital manipulation rules the roost!
Coming back to Shibu, his first brush with photography was shooting a fashion portfolio for a friend, who couldn’t afford somebody big shot. Things didn’t look back after that, else Shibu was all set to become a jewellery designer. Travelling helped Shibu mature a lot as a photographer and this is where his dad, famous painter Yusuf Arakkal came in handy. “When I finished my graduation, dad gave a ticket to travel all over Europe and I got see a lot,” he recalls. But otherwise, he confesses to be diametrically opposite to his father. “He is figurative and I am so abstract that even my portraits look abstract. I am very spiritually inclined while dad is out and out a realist,” tells Shibu.
Can’t say much about his spiritual musings, but yes his abstraction stands out sharply in his exhibition. Shibu is known to change the scale of the things he shoots so dramatically that it becomes difficult for the viewer to grasp the subject. The fifteen digital prints on canvas explore Shibu’s sexual and sociological fascinations. We are obviously talking about the female form here. He sees the female curves and silhouettes in the back of a chair, shape of a bulb, branches of a tree and even Italian cars!
Hope Delhiites find some interesting wall pin-ups here if not fine photography.
Of his recent photographs, says Giridhar Khasnis, ‘Shibu meticulously documents a sequence of inspired images that present the façade of other-worldly grandeur. Gentle geometric patterns, absorbing arrangements and multi-dimensional views are punctuated by teasing looks, capturing the nuances of refined architectural interiors. Captured by glimmering strokes of gently grazing light, the richly detailed “subjects” exude a unique warmth and affection.
‘Presenting incredibly original views of elegantly abstracted forms, Shibu concurrently reveals a passionate understanding of the environment.
‘Shibu’s images bear a connection with ideas, associations, and interfaces. Their engagement with the viewer is in terms of an intimate and revealing dialogue – at times muted, but more often silent.’
The result is a striking body of work: ‘intense and lyrical, patterned and rhythmic, classical and contemporary, sensual and cerebral.’
Shibu will exhibit his works in Mumbai from January 15th to 20th at Kitab Mahal, and at Gallery Art n Soul in Delhi from February 9th to 22nd.
The funny irony is that he is the most unlikely person to become a photographer because he abhors bare-faced freeze-framing. His gaze is that of a painter. He does not see things as they are but as they can be. He combines images, splits them, turns them over their head, sees the uncommon in the common and the common in the uncommon. Who else but Shibu Arakkal can photograph half-a-centimetre of an object or a space and then blow it up to six feet so that the infinitesimal becomes the unavoidable. Who else but he can see the curve of a woman’s body in the back of a chair or the neck of a bottle or the wave of a water-body?
“It started with the profound question why we find the curve more appealing than the straight line and then I began looking at curves in everything,” says Shibu. The process continued over two years.
The images he has exhibited now are all abstractions, morphed slices of reality and invite closer exploration rather than impersonal regard from a distance.
We cannot always recognize the forms for what they are but we can see the curve as a motif if reach one of them. We can see it in the fantastic network of bare branches, in the water waves but there is tactile sensuality in other pictures where the curve rivals the warmth, rotundity and texture of a woman’s body.
That Shibu is slowly gravitating towards his genes is evident by the fact his current works are printed on a canvas! He won’t paint like his father Yusuf Arakkal with pigments and brushes but even his camera cannot for long stay away from the canvas. “No one can quite tell whether the canvasses are actually paintings or photographs!” he chuckles.
The show is on at Gallerie Sara Arakkal till December 5 and will subsequently travel to Mumbai and Delhi.
Shibu Arakkal, 30 found his artistic voice by a happy accident. A friend who wanted to get into modeling wanted a portfolio done but couldn’t afford a professional photographer. Shibu stepped in and shot the pictures. The results took him and everyone else by surprise. “Because the results were good, I got curious to know and explore more,” he recalls. “I tried to figure things out by myself. Yes, I read a lot of books and worked with photographers like Sudhir Ramachandran and Rafique Sayed on occasion but mostly I am self-taught.” Over the last 12 years, Shibu has developed an abstract style that is startling and very original. Whether he is shooting a building, a blade of grass, trees or a European city, you cannot miss the wry humour in his compositions and the subtle twist he accords to both the animate and intimate. His work is not populist but it has a loyal clientele. Says the lensman: “While I have to do commercial work to survive, I am better off than most of my peers. There are architects and artists who want me for the style that I have developed.” His message for aspiring photographers: “If you want to learn photography, get your hands dirty. No classroom lectures can help you. You have to do a job to learn it.” Shibu’s dream is to see photography evolve into a serious art form. He believes it’s doable as it is so close to life.
Photographer Shibu Arakkal captured forms and reflections and blew them up to three feet. As a result, the image is unrecognizable, its scale different. The perspective is visually challenging with an abstract element. Perhaps it is this quality that fetched him the first place in the photography section at the Arad International Biennale of Art.
Photography happened by chance for Shibu, who was preparing for a career in advertising. Fate intervened when he was studying fashion illustration, where photography was a mere pastime. It was when friends appreciated his candid shots, that Shibu got serious about the medium.
“It’s now an obsession and I have to try hard to switch off the lens and sleep in the night,” says Shibu, who has trained under reputed photographers like Sudir Ramachandran and Rafique Sayed.
Over the last two years, his focus has been on art photography, as he finds the genre compelling.
The 29-year-old has participated in an artists camp in Russia and a digital art exhibition in Italy. The experience exposed him to new age experiments with the camera. “The photography showcased in exhibitions abroad is of remarkable quality,” he says.
Though his father Yusuf Arakkal is a famous painter, it was the intriguing nature of photography that drew Shibu. The closest he comes to the art medium is with skills to interpret a frame as canvas.