The inspiration behind artist Nityan Unnikrishnan’s current exhibition, Transparent Things, was derived from of an interesting mix of fiction and reality. The idea first struck him while he was visiting a furniture factory in Palakkad, Kerala, as a child.
It became more pronounced when the artist was exposed to the world of the Russian-American book, Vladimir Nabokov, who, in his novel, Transparent Things, explained the thought that everyday things become transparent because they tend to be overlooked in the course of routine. Giving this philosophy an artistic touch is the Delhi-based artist’s current set of artwork in pen, ink, and watercolour on paper.
Unnikrishnan, who is known for including elements from his life, primarily his childhood and workspace experiences, in his drawings, brings forward portraits in this exhibition. “It was not aconscious decision to make portraits; I just followed my nose and went along,” says the artist, adding, “The portraits in the show are imagined and remembered narratives of my personal history layered with other little stories.”
The alumnus of National Institute of Design further explains that apart from a number of single-character portraits in the show, there are a few vitrines (glass display cases) with tiny drawings in them. “They have very different stories to tell. They also look different from the rest. I never managed to visualise all the works together in a gallery space. So, it feels good to see them up on the wall, holding well together,” says Unnikrishnan.
As the artist grew up in a setting where his grandfather had a carpentry shop — something that always fascinated him — the conspicuous influence of furniture in his works is understandable. As a result, elements like facades, chairs and tables often find their way to his exhibitions. “My works derive images from my childhood. So, objects and furniture find their way into them. Also, I make a bit of furniture, so I can’t help drawing them sometimes,” he says.
However, even though he has studied ceramic design, Unnikrishnan calls ceramic sculptures “a different beast”. He says, “Working on one is a bit like building a little hut on your own. I love drawing and I do it all the time, and if I don’t like it, I can tear it up. It is much harder to do that to a wood and ceramic sculpture.”
Finally, when quizzed about the current state of contemporary artists in India, Unnikrishnan summed it up in an optimistic stance, “It just looks harder at times, but there is always place for all of us,” he says.