Enigmatic Excellence: The Artistic Legacy Of Iconic Kerala Painter C.N. Karunakaran

C.N. Karunakaran's artistic approach incorporated a fusion of diverse influences, including Kerala mural art, Indian mythology, fantasy, and folk elements.
C.N. Karunakaran's artistic approach incorporated a fusion of diverse influences, including Kerala mural art, Indian mythology, fantasy, and folk elements.Palette People

C.N. Karunakaran (1940 - 2013) or C.N.K., as he was popularly known, was a brilliant luminary in Indian art, who lived a long and full life. His oeuvre is as distinct as it is massive, with over a thousand paintings, housed all over the world. Even though he is no longer in the earthly realm, his artistry has stood the test of time. His artistic approach incorporated a fusion of diverse influences, including Kerala mural art, Indian mythology, fantasy, and folk elements. The graceful shapes, vibrant colours, and enigmatic storytelling in his paintings bestowed them with a unique personality. The female form was a primary motif in his works, along with a fantastical portrayal of animals.

Two fantastical winged figures in a Karunakaran painting
Two fantastical winged figures in a Karunakaran paintingC.N. Karunakaran
One of the paintings being dsiplayed at the 'Chitrakoodam: A Tribute to C.N. Karunakaran' exhibition in Bengaluru
One of the paintings being dsiplayed at the 'Chitrakoodam: A Tribute to C.N. Karunakaran' exhibition in BengaluruC.N. Karunakaran

C.N.K. was born in 1940 in the serene village of Brahmakulam, Kerala. He began his artistic journey by attending the Government School of Arts and Crafts in Madras. Under the guidance of mentors D.P. Roy Choudhari and K.C.S. Paniker, C.N.K. developed his skills in design and painting, eventually evolving his artistry into a symbol of modernity and creativity. Despite facing early challenges, such as losing the use of one leg due to typhoid, he remained determined and even more passionate about pursuing art.

Karunakaran's professional journey is a remarkable demonstration of his adaptability and originality. Initially, he engaged in selling seashell paintings and occasionally worked in the film industry. However, he eventually returned to Kerala in 1970, where he continued to explore new frontiers in his artistic endeavors within the local context. In 1973, he established Chithrakootam, which became Kerala's inaugural privately-owned art gallery, signifying a pivotal moment in his career and contributed to the state's burgeoning cultural scene.

An acrylic painting by the maestro
An acrylic painting by the maestroC.N. Karunakaran
C.N. Karunakaran's artistic approach incorporated a fusion of diverse influences, including Kerala mural art, Indian mythology, fantasy, and folk elements.
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In his lifetime, C.N.K. went to win accolades including the Madras Lalitha Kala Academy award, multiple Kerala Lalitha Kala Academy awards, the P.T. Bhaskara Paniker Award, the Malayattoor Ramakrishnan Award, and the Ravi Varma Puraskaram Award. He also showcased his work worldwide, with significant solo exhibitions in Brazil, the United States, and Kuwait - which highlights his immense global popularity and impact.

In 1992, Palette People International Art Foundation, one of the pioneer art promoter groups in Kerala, organized C.N. Karunakaran's inaugural solo exhibition. Warping time to the present moment, Palette People has once again organized a delightful visual treat for all art lovers to witness the brilliance of C.N.K., in collaboration with the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation, Bengaluru.

From the C.N. Karunakaran exhibition at Fort Kochi, last year
From the C.N. Karunakaran exhibition at Fort Kochi, last yearBiju Thomson

The exhibition Chitrakoodam: A Tribute to C.N. Karunakaran is titled after this significant gallery and aims to pay homage to Karunakaran's heritage by featuring a collection of his most remarkable artworks. Attendees will be able to fully engage with his abstract landscapes, figurative pieces, and artworks that are inspired by the Kerala mural and miniature traditions, highlighting his unique artistic style and contribution to Indian art. It is not just an exhibition but a journey through a great artist's life and legacy.

Chitrakoodam: A Tribute to C.N. Karunakaran

Date - 26th February to 31st March, 2024.

Timings - 10 am to 6 pm, Monday to Saturday.

Venue - Maini Sadan, 38, Lavelle Road, 7th Cross, Bangalore - 560 001. Karnataka, India.

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