From frames to fabrics

“My artworks always spill outside the boundaries. They cannot be restricted within dainty frames,” says artist and designer Lakshmi Srinath with a laugh, pointing at a large wooden piece of work that hangs on the wall of her studio, Tvam, in Chennai. A black multi-headed serpent stares out of it at the visitors; there is a dab of turmeric smudged on it, and a dot of vermillion right on its forehead. Just beneath it is a small stretch of zebra crossing. She tells us that the wooden work titled Faith Immovable was inspired by a casual sight on a roadside — of a man worshipping a stone beneath a tree.

Just as we finish drinking in the painting, it’s hard not to notice the striking similarity of the painting and the black Kancheevaram silk saree that Lakshmi has draped. The pallu is alternate black and white, with a huge red dot weaved on its centre; a thick golden yellow line runs across the bottom of the drape.

For Lakshmi, art doesn’t just spill outside boundaries, it spills across mediums too.

“I translate the same artworks I do on wood, to fabrics (Kancheevaram silk, Chanderi and Tie and Dye) and to pieces of jewellery,” she says. Her works revolve around the theme of Sakthi. Red dot or Bindu, which symbolises a pool of energy from which everything originates, Sutra or long thread that symbolises continuity of life, and inverted triangle or yoni, an iconographic symbol of creation, are recurring elements across her collection. When it comes to colours, it is a creative play of yellow (denotes turmeric), red (vermillion) and white (ash). “I grew up in a conventional family, but the rituals and traditions that I have depicted through my works have nothing religious about them,” she says.

Instead, they convey the powerful emotion of faith. She sees millionnaires bow their heads before a piece of stone on the road side before wheeling away in their Mercedes, or a group worshipping an extended branch of a tree as lord Ganesha — and these take form in her works. “When I go to temples, I don’t see a Krishna with a flute, Siva or Vishnu, I see a stone that has been consecrated for years and years; a stone with reflects back all the positive energy which millions of people have infused in it. Just the sight of that black stone with a smear of sandalwood and a dot of red… I find that terribly powerful,” she adds.

Besides fabrics and wooden frames, the studio houses neat glass showcases filled with neckpieces and earrings made with small wooden pieces, frames of silver dipped in gold, lava beads, fired clay moulds, green turquoise, mother of pearl, agate and so on. A few are hung on the nails drilled into frames of painted wood. “It’s a complete package; those who want to buy the jewellery, get the wooden artwork on which it is hung,” she says.

But isn’t it tough — juggling three mediums? we ask. Challenges are aplenty. For example, in fabrics, the warp and wefts may not necessarily produce the same effect that you can produce with a heavy dip of paint, she explains. “But, it is all an extension of art. I don’t treat them (painting and designing) as separate,” she says.

Lakshmi is an art student, and has been painting ever since she was a kid. She graduated in Fine Arts, but soon got married and took a hiatus from the art world. However, she did start a children’s boutique in the early 1980s, and slowly ventured into designing for adults.

“That’s when I happened to meet artist A V Ilango, and he motivated me to get back into painting seriously,” she says, taking a moment to recall the exact year, “It was in 1995. Has it been 20 years?” she adds with a tinge of surprise. She showcased her works in London, France, Singapore, besides in India ever since.

She also started Tvam Art and Design Studio with her daughter Krithika Srinivasan in 2011. Meanwhile, a director with The Hindu, she got busy managing the events at the office, and art took a backseat. “But I was itching to paint, and somehow, I started making jewellery. I found that it was giving me some sort of expression to my art,” she says.

An edited version of the same appeared in The Hindu Bangalore edition of October 16. Here is the link