Thiruvananthapuram-based Simi Rajan, who creates enchanting works of art in attractive colours and amazing details, shares her art journey with N. Kalyani, and what goes into making her stunning works
You were teaching at a school. What were the subjects you taught? How was the experience?
started my teaching career at the Rai School in Delhi in the year 2000. I taught science for classes 6, 7 and 8, and biology for 9 and 10. I always tried to go beyond the textbook and to help my students understand the fundamentals of biology better through experiments and diagrams. One of my favourites teaching preferences was drawing diagrams across the blackboards and watching the kids interact. Through my teaching years, I explored different methods and activities to help students understand the subject better. This helped them think outside the box. My classes were always appreciated for creative and innovative thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching years and connecting with young minds. I’ve always believed that we have so much to learn from youngsters!
You moved from teaching to pursuing art. When did you make the move? And what prompted you to do so?
Teaching helped me earn some money without taking away attention from my growing daughters and made those years very memorable for me. Both my daughters are creative, being into sketching and painting. And they made me realize my deep interest in art. Once they left for higher studies, I was ready to give wings to my passion. In 2014, I gave up teaching, and my art journey began in Trivandrum. I started exploring different art styles to know which resonated with me.
You are into mural painting. Please tell us more about the art form.
Mural paintings are the oldest human art form, as cave paintings at numerous ancient human settlements suggest, and can be found all over the globe. The mural paintings I got attracted to are old traditional paintings depicting Hindu mythologies painted across temple walls and palaces in Kerala. They point to an abounding tradition of mural paintings mostly dating back to the period between the 9th and 12th centuries when the form of art enjoyed royal patronage. Sanskrit texts also discuss in detail the style and effectiveness of the five dominant colours in mural paintings: scarlet red, Prussian blue, sap green, yellow ochre and black.
What attracted you to mural art? And how did you train to be a mural painter?
I shifted to the beautiful state of Kerala after my marriage. Here I was introduced to this special traditional art that inspired me deeply. I was a regular visitor to Guruvayoor temple. and the murals of Guruvayoor and Padmanabha Swamy temples are fascinating. I started learning the depths of mural art at Guruvayur Mural Art Institute in 2915 under the guidance of K.U. Krishnakumar. Subsequently, I also got trained by Prince Thonnakal, near Trivandrum, who helped me add an x-factor to my work. Learning from different artists and at different places enabled me to get a holistic understanding of the art and find my own space in the world of mural art.
How do you execute the murals? What are the paints amenable to making murals? How do you create details in the murals?
I first draw the intended picture on canvas with an HB pencil, and then use acrylic paints. And long hair brushes are used for painting. In the Kerala style of mural painting, it is basically five colours that are used. If we want any other colour, we can mix 2 to 3 colours out of the 5 basic colours. Black ink is used for lining the painting after it is done. I feel that the detailing in a painting happens on its own as I get involved in the theme of the painting. The day I have to do a difficult part of a painting and contemplate how I will do it, I pray during my pooja time and seek blessings to paint in the best way, and surprisingly it happens. I am really thankful to God. While painting, I enjoy listening to spiritual music. In murals, at first, we always make the ornaments, then comes the apparel, after which comes the surroundings and, in the end, the face and the figure. Lastly, black lining is given for impact.
What other art forms do you engage in?
For me, art is a way to add color and fun to life. I like to explore different art forms, ranging from Madbubani folk art to fabric painting to modern art. I also like to express my creativity through gardening, dancing and even cooking!
Going back in time, when did your interest in art take root?
I was born in Patna, Bihar, and brought up in Ranchi, Jharkhand. I always participated in cultural programmes. I remember bunking classes to paint props for school events. That’s the only time bunking a class resulted in praises! In college, I was able to explore different painting styles. It was here that I was introduced to the world of art and design. My father still has the first painting I ever made displayed in his living room!
Coming back to your murals, which places are adorned by your works?
I have created a series of mural paintings for different spaces. These places include the Chitragupta School of Management at Patna, and the Bhopal museum. It takes time to create a mural painting. By the time it is over, there is a taker. I just completed a 15’x3’ Dashavatar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) acrylic painting on canvas based on request. And I am currently creating a 15’x3’ mural painting based on Sundarkand (from the Ramayana). I hope this beautiful art form gets more recognition.