Aji VN’s latest solo show at the Mirchandani+ Steinruecke Gallery, Mumbai brings back a lot of sepia toned and black and white memories. Here is an artist who has shifted his original location and found a home in foreign lands. However, it does not seem that the change in the locale has shifted the context of his art production. Aji places/produces his works in the context of a rigorous journey, a journey undertaken for the pleasure of it.
During the late eighties Aji, as a student of Trivandrum Fine Arts College, was inspired by three things; love, music and the life lived by an artist as seen in Irwin Stone’s biographical fiction on Van Gogh, ‘Lust for Life’. There was another bible; Letters to Theo, a collection of letters written by Van Gogh to his brother Theo. He wandered through the narrow streets of Trivandrum, singing ‘So ja raja kumari so ja’ (a love ridden lullaby sung by K.L.Saigal) and ‘mein to tumaro na’ by Bhimsen Joshi. He was always looking for something, which was ungraspable and this search induced him with a sense of melancholy. His landscapes became worth memorable as they were tinged with this sense of melancholy. He saved his life by flying on the wings of fancy.
I clearly remember a portrait done by Aji sometime in 1988. It was the portrait of a young girl, who used to come as a live model in the painting department. She was beautiful. The perennial melancholy of the administrative city of Trivandrum was etched in her face. She was a destitute and was forced to work as a hooker. A model during day time and a hooker by night. Aji was pained to see this. He made a beautiful portrait of this girl. On the day that he finished that portrait, in the Golden Hill Palace lawns, sitting against golden rays of the setting sun Aji told me, “I finished her portrait.” It almost sounded like, “I had her”. Such a passion was in his voice. Then he sang his favorite song, ‘So ja raja kumari so ja’.
The portrait of this girl, though it was done during his graduate studies and was over- burdened by the post-impressionist brush strokes, had some kind of attraction, an attraction that defined Aji’s lust for life. The girl was portrayed against a blue sky, lit up by a few psychedelic stars, a la Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’ In several ways, this work is pivotal in Aji’s creative life. Perhaps, he did not paint that girl again. Later he did not bother about her life either. But that portrait was a landscape in the form of a girl, an essence of his mental journeys. The contours contained a land, where Aji wanted to escape.