Can art be an instrument to propagate ideas?

Vimal Chandran's show at Thalam is a work of love, existential questions and doubts.

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On the wall, there is a huge grizzly bear staring down a little boy. The child is clutching a balloon, in parts is mesmerised, puzzled and fearful of the animal before him.

The bear has leaves for hair and a ticking time bomb on his back. Poof! He would be blown to bits anytime, but while he stays, he is real, huge and probably means death for the boy. In a thought bubble between them is a line: I have seen the labyrinth and it looks like a straight line. That is the key to deciphering Vimal Chandran's art on display at Thalam, the youngest of creative community spaces in Bangalore.

'I have seen the labyrinth and it looks like a straight line' is also a riddle of sorts, intended to pique your curiosity and lead you to ponder over the art on display -- illustrations, paintings, photographs and installations -- all unobtrusive clues to the puzzle. 

That Vimal Chandran's Facebook page has 73,669 Likes (at the time of going to print) isn't surprising. Much of his art is friendly. References from pop culture, books, music and cinema populate his work and give it an endearing, enduring appeal to those who are strangers to art galleries, the rather un-arty folk.

His hugely popular series, Unposted Letters, a collection of illustrations addressed as 'Letter to Her', has a strong fan-following online. Vimal attributes that to the simplicity of the characters in the series -- a boy, a girl, an umbrella, and, sometimes, a shark. Love, unrequited and otherwise, is a thread that runs through all of them -- that is another aspect that draws people in, Vimal says.

Not that all of it is simplistic. On the contrary, the work is multi-layered; more meanings appear gradually when you look beyond the initial lure that pulled you in. They have undercurrents of politics, existentialism, magical realism and surrealism -- some of Vimal's favourite reading material.

For example, in the sketch 'Blow My Mind', the boy and girl ride on dandelion seeds flying in the air and he tells her, "I let you blow my mind'. Lines from Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Charles Bukowski's Bluebird come to life in some of his water-colour paintings. In a work, titled 'At The End', the 'Bluebird' in the heart -- which Bukowski wrote about -- escapes its prison.

Some of his paintings escape the confines of the frame and flow onto the walls, even out of the windows. Quite like him, who a month ago quit his day job as a computer engineer with one of the leading MNCs to focus on art which has been his passion since childhood.

"I grew up in Pattambi, a small town in Kerala. I have always been painting or sketching. I went on to study engineering and moved to Bangalore about seven years ago when I got a job. Here, I began experimenting with creative media, including photographs. The city, the grind of routine, aspirations of those around me and so on triggered questions inside me. That could have inspired some of my art," he says.

Social and political injustices happening in and around us reflect in his work. For Vimal, art is "an instrument to propagate ideas". 'I have seen the labyrinth and it looks like a straight line' is his first solo art show. It is on at Thalam till 28th July.

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