“If one asks me what I paint, I would shrink away as I do not have a straight answer. I do not work to fit myself into any political or ideological tag. I also do not consciously align myself with any ‘isms’ or trendy fashions in art. For me, art is a meditative solitary journey. I am concerned with exploring the psychological moods and feelings that I experience that do not have words to describe. At best, what I can say at this moment is that I am a painter of interiors – interiors of lives I see around, lives of the silenced, the marginalised and the alienated.”
Tom Vattukzhy’s canvasses are masterpieces in the language of luminosity. For this Kala Bhavan, Baroda trained artist, innovations as a colourist go beyond the popularisation of tenebrism. Vattakuzhy has a deep understanding of narrative as well as surreal stances in telling stories within stories; he seems to have discovered a way of managing colours that eschew the Renaissance practices of tonal unity and continuous modelling. He revels in setting up a juxtaposition of colour tones and weaving in dark zones to enhance the appearance of saturation and brightness, employing discontinuous modelling to enhance the perception of contrast and unity. The crucifix has a dramatic air of poignancy and the priest’s robes remind us of earlier Renaissance paintings by Raphael and Leonardo. The power to comment on society’s many hidden dramas and diatribes in a subtle ironic way is Vattakuzhy’s penchant.
-Uma Nair, senior art critic
Tom Vattakuzhy’s carefully rendered paintings, rich with light effects and subdued colour tones nestle between the real and the surreal. His intuitive and deliberate compositions evolve from observed reality but are expressions of his own feelings and responses which lends them a mysterious and contemplative quality. His poignant figures, eloquent in gesture and posture are imbued with a series of evocative associations and memories.
He joined Kalabhawan, Santiniketan in 1991 where he graduated with a degree in printmaking in 1996. His exposure to the life and works of Benode Behari Das and Ramkinkar Baij and his close associations with doyen artists like K.G. Subramanyan, Somnath Hore and art historian, R. Sivakumar had a significant impact on the formation of his artistic priorities and way of life.
Upon completing his master’s degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda in 1998, in lieu of keeping him and his art practice in line with the winds of the changing art scenario, he delved into an unlearning and relearning process reassessing art from medieval times to the present assimilating what his heart responded to. This became a crucial step in his artistic career and significantly influenced the formation of his visual language with a structural solidity and organisation. From 2010, he devoted himself solely to his art. With the intention of bringing art close to society, he engaged himself in illustrating periodicals with virtually stand alone paintings that he preferred to call ‘story-paintings’. A controversy over one of his works resulted in the retraction of the magazine itself, leaving him disillusioned and demoralised, and finally did away with it in 2016. One of his history paintings titled ‘Death of Gandhi’ received a nation wide acclaim and found its way to the cover painting of Kerala budget in 2020. He has been the recipient of awards like AIFACS Award, New Delhi in 1997 and 1998, Kerala Lalit Kala Academy Award in 1997, National Scholarship, HRD New Delhi in 1996, Haren Das Award, Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta in 1995.
He lives and works in Muvattupuzha, his hometown in Kerala.