Each and every one of Gopikrishnan’s paintings is deeply engraved in the minds of the audience. The beauty of the art is due to careful observation and analysis. V N Nidhin talks to G Gopikrishnan, one of the most notable contemporary illustrators in Kerala.
It is very difficult to create mesmerizing visuals. But your works do mesmerize. How did you get into painting and the very colorful worlds you create?
I used to paint slightly during childhood, but I never wanted to be a painter, never studied it professionally or felt it as a passion, or have not been aware of much art history. But: my brother sent me to tuition classes in drawing. I used to participate in competitions from the school. I did not win any prizes; most of the contestants were brilliant painters. I was amazed to see their work. And that was my first experience in painting.
I graduated in Chemistry. After that I worked for a while as a quality officer in a food processing company. I had to leave that job for some personal reasons, and at that time I needed at least a slice of hope to hold on to. I was under a lot of mental stress, I had barely any sleep or food, I felt like I was losing my sanity – days were like clapping your hands in water, tough, slow.
At the urging of a friend, I decided to do something creative. I began to sketch. It was like swimming against a stream for about a year and I posted my works on social media, and thus I stepped into the world of art without realizing it. I had little confidence that I could do something in this field. The tremendous support of a few friends was what helped me to hold on. Poet Vishnu Prasad, especially, his encouragement was vital.
This is a time when digital possibilities are being exploited in paintings. How do you see the potential of a digital platform? Your works include various types of media. Is such a different way of working the result of a conscious effort?
It seems that the future is full of digital illustrations. The job of an artist has completely shifted to digital. Personally, I am not trying to maintain the same style – I have been trying to bring maximum variations in my art. Paintings made in the same mold seem to quickly tire viewers, even if it’s digital. I also personally like to work on paper, I can’t just work as a digital illustrator. Basically the art we create is more important. Whether it’s digital or on paper, or a mix of the two, does not seem to matter much.
Today, many paintings are created in such a way that they are indistinguishable from photographs, are ‘photo-realistic’. How do you see such trends?
Photo-realistic paintings are indeed a form of art. It takes a lot of patience and effort. But I have my doubts about the result. What can we say if an artist recreates photograph in hours, except that he is a very patient worker? The art fades away and the artist’s rather than the photographer’s work will be in full swing. This is a problem with all realistic paintings that do not challenge photography in any way. Our visual medium is racing like a horse: views we have never seen before are moving forward every second into moving and non-moving images. That is a challenge for painters. It does not seem to matter where you look to imitate it. You have to look for compositions that no one has created yet.
Is it possible for a work of art to be edited independently of external pressures?
Yes, the painter must be careful not to let the lines become inhuman. It seems that our society is moving towards a very narrow mindset. Society approaches art as terribly emotional, regardless of what the piece is. People’s emotions have quickly oriented towards a society where causing hurt is the dominant action. I can never agree with such thoughts and tendencies.
How do you see the potential of painting as an artist? Have you ever felt the need to change the techniques of painting or the way it is taught?
Animation is the next stage of painting. Its beauty and significance lies in the fact that through painting it is possible to create scenes and ideas that no human has ever seen or thought of. Visual language is one of the most important languages of human beings, with the movement and flow of images and images/forms. Writing has always seemed to me to be something related to visual language. Writers always encode an image into words and the reader decodes the words as image.
There are so many artists around. Many people are trying to create a space of their own with new narrative methods. How do you see the newcomers, and their composition skill?
There are a lot of people around who draw magnificently. To draw magnificently one must also think extravagantly. I’m a newcomer too. I have not acquired enough knowledge to evaluate them.
The romantic moments in your paintings are emotional beyond words. Their beauty is noteworthy. How do you achieve them?
I don’t usually get a feeling while working. Happiness is when someone sees it and says they feel a connection…. My working style is like that of being in a laboratory, adding and subtracting artificially for a unique illustration. Among those, some turn out to be good and some do not. No special ingredients are added to depict love, anyway. I do not create for my own pleasure. The emphasis is on making art that others can enjoy in some way. It’s just that I have some set conditions to my process.
If you are illustrating a work by a writer, how do you make romantic expressions a reality on the canvas?
I do an illustration for literature, it’s another reading of the piece. But the roots of both receive water and manure from the same land, to share the same feelings. The question I always have to ask is whether to challenge the reader’s imagination by drawing almost exactly the same as what has been written.
Have you ever felt obligated to read in order to draw? Do shapes come to mind in reading rather than in drawing?
Reading never feels like an obligation. After reading a novel or story that I find interesting, and sitting down to draw inspired by it, a lot of possibilities seem to come to the fore. I do not think about drawing when I read. I try to immerse myself in the text as much as possible, because for me, drawing is a very artificial process that I have to constantly think about.
Translated, from the Malayalam, by Adeena Regeena
Revised by Rishi Dastidar
G. Gopikrishnan (born in 1990) is an illustrator based in Kerala, India. He earned a BSc in Chemistry from Kerala University. He has developed his own visual vocabulary and inimitable style. His illustrations combine elements of reality with surrealism, employing use of the pen and digital art. His remarkable versatility is a tribute to the sensitivity he displays towards his subjects. His beautifully orchestrated compositions are enhanced in breadth and depth by his versatile use of colour.
He started his career as a freelance illustrator in 2017. His early works were created for Samakalika Malayalam Weekly in 2018. Later on, he designed covers for the writers Devadas VM, Vishnu Prasad, S. Kalesh, Perumbadavam, Chithra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sonnet Mondal etc. Since 2019 he has been an artist for the Malayala Manorama Daily and is currently doing illustrations for Malayala Manorma Daily, Bhashaposhini (monthly) and cover designs for Manorama Books. In November 2019 and June 2021, he published his cover illustration for Bhashaposhini. And he also created a creative jacket page illustration regarding the 75th Indian independence day for Malayala Manorama Daily.
Nidhin VN (born in 1992) is a poet, fiction writer, artist and journalist from Kerala, India. He was born in Marathamcode at Thrissur in Kerala. He is the Executive Editor and co-founder of Litart.media.
Adeena Regeena (born in 1996), is an MPhil scholar at University of Calicut, from Kerala, India. She completed her Post graduation from Sree Shankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady. She lives in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
interviewed by Nidhin VN for WTPLive