Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sanctuary for art Nirmala Ravindran

The red spiral staircase is the only indicator of the colour that the insides safeguard. The open verandah-cum-portico is the local adda here, and intently discussing the techniques behind the new show is Suresh Jayaram, art teacher and former Dean at the Chitrakala Parishad, and the guardian of this beautiful abode.Welcome to One Shanthi Road, artists’ refuge and award-winning architectural design, rolled into one. Jayaram has been ardently promoting art in and around One Shanthi Road for the last few years.The current artist-in-residence is Kevin Kelly, professor of art at a Canadian university in Winnipeg. It is artists like Kelly that One Shanthi Road is aimed at. “The residency is for anyone who wants to collaborate and connect with the local artists.
They can use the space for a long-period experiment and create new work, some of which have to be exhibited before they leave,” says Jayaram.Kelly is working on the changing urban landscapes, and he is particularly intrigued by India. What currently keeps him occupied is a series of paintings of transformers and television and telecom towers that dot the landscape.

Jayaram, at his artists’ retreatArtist G. Mahesh, originally from Nanjangud, is currently having his solo show here. Incidentally, this is the same space that Jehangir Jani worked from to create art for one of his curated shows.One Shanti Road was originally the terrace of Jayaram’s mother’s house, which Jayaram converted into a private living space, a studio, and a residency. “It was a barsati, but thanks to my architect we managed to create this,” he says. Meeta Jain, the architect in question, won an award for innovative use of urban space for this project.
The studio, which can be used by both visual artists as well as performers to showcase their work, includes an open courtyard and the residency upstairs, besides Jayaram’s own house. The residency is a selfcontained bedroom, with a mezannine, a work space, bathroom, and an outdoor space. Once a month is open house, and artists of every kind throng the venue. Everyone even knows where the key to the place is hidden. “It’s the best place in the whole world,” says Kelly.Since there is no funding agency or body to sponsor the working of the space, it remains purely artist-driven. The space is given to the artists who need it, and they, in turn, donate whatever they can to the running of the space.

Jayaram, Kelly and Mahesh sharing a joke at One Shanthi RoadThough One Shanthi Road has been working with visual artists so far, Jayaram confides that there have been a few “trespasses by performing artists” and, instead of prosecuting, he intends to make them a part of the deal as well.Jayaram’s plan is also to work and collaborate with artists from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. “It’s not like I don’t realise how fragile the whole thing is. It could pack up tomorrow,” he says about the place that he has poured his life into.As we walk out into an enthusiastic group of aspiring artists mingling with their seniors, sharing the same space and interacting, what comes to mind is Eric Weiner calling One Shanthi Road “one of the most blissful places in the world” in his best seller The Geography of Bliss. Indeed, who needs a better testimony!