With the concept of sustainability pervading our lifestyle at every step, more and more artists in India are showing a proclivity towards eco-friendly art forms and mediums. From homemade, organic colours to art installations made from upcycled waste—they are now open to experimenting with anything and everything that can save the planet.
Rajendran Vadakkepadath is one among the above. The painter and art teacher from Chittur town in Palakkad, Kerala, has been etching bold brush strokes on an uncommon canvas—dried banana leaf.
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Harnessing the overabundance of banana leaves in his state, Rajendran has succeeded in turning the flaky and frail dried banana leaf into the perfect medium for intricate paintings.
“Historically, banana leaves have rarely served as a medium of painting or calligraphy, unlike its sturdier counterparts like palm leaves or peepal leaves—which finds use in traditional folk arts of Odisha. The only close example I have found is that of the dried bark of the banana stem being used as a canvas by the Masai tribe of Kenya, Africa,” shares Rajendran.
So, he believes he is one of the very few artists in the world who have attempted to paint on banana leaves. He has been practising this art form since 2013 and has brilliantly mastered the craft by now.
One of his most exquisite works—Sree Padmanabhaswamy—painted on an 8 ft X 4.5 ft canvas, speaks volumes of his expertise and finesse.
Though fresh banana leaves feature heavily in the everyday lifestyle in Kerala, there has never been much use for the dried ones, except perhaps as an ingredient for green manure. Rajendran, who has always had a penchant for eco-friendly mediums for painting, opted to paint on a banana leaf, on a whim.
After several rounds of trials and errors, he achieved the impossible by turning the humble banana leaf into exquisite works of art.
“There is a meticulous process involved in turning the fragile banana leaves suitable for painting. The method is a result of my experimentation,” mentions Rajendran, though he prefers not to disclose the ingenious procedure he follows to render his leaf canvas ready.
He claims that if preserved within glass frames, a banana leaf painting can last up to a century.
Rajendran chooses to stick to monochrome colours in his paintings to bring out the natural, burnt-ochre tint of dry banana leaves. Water and oil colours do not work out on banana leaves, so the ace painter has taken up acrylic.
To make the best of his unusual canvas, he has adopted a unique technique of reverse colouring, which often takes months to complete. For instance, his painting ‘Sree Padmanabhaswamy’, which features only the colour black, took nearly five months to attain completion.
Alongside banana leaves, Rajendran also paints on palm leaves, though his preferred medium has been the former for the past six years.
Rajendran is a devout admirer of legendary painters like Da Vinci and Artist Namboodiri, an Indian painter and sculptor, and aims to convey his love for the environment through banana leaf artworks.
“I have been experimenting with eco-friendly art for quite a long time. I wish to inspire more people to adopt unique and sustainable art forms,” he concludes.
All images are courtesy of Rajendran Vadakkepadath
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)