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Artist Profile2
Urban predicament and agony drive Yusuf Arakkal’s art
Yusuf Arakkal is a keen observer of the life and faces around that he imbibes and processes in his artistic realm, often depicting a solitary human in different poses, at times. The socially sensitive practitioner is in constant touch with an anguished being, invariably disturbed, somewhere deep inside him. It’s the human presence – agony and aspirations - that arouses his attention and urges his creative inner space. He depicts the everyday miseries of the dispossessed, their helplessness and even their utter stoicism in the face of tragedy through his art. His work is largely about prevailing urban predicament and pervading sense of loneliness, exuding lingering ‘melancholic’ element.

Born in 1945 in Kerala, he had to go through several ups and downs. He chose art as a career against his family’s wishes and ran away from his home to Bangalore. He spent life on the city streets for more than a year, and worked at construction sites and hotels during this tough period. But his resolve to become an artist remained intact. Apart from acquiring specialization in Graphic Print Making from The National Academy Community Studios in Garhi, New Delhi (1980), he also did a Diploma in Painting from Chitrakala Parishat College of Art, Bangalore (1973).

Among his selected solo shows are 'An Inner Fire', Art Alive Gallery, Delhi (2011); ‘The Street’ courtesy Art Alive and Gallery Sanskriti, Kolkata (2008); ‘The Age of Innocence’ courtesy S. A. Fine Arts, London and Galerie Sara Arakkal, Bangalore; ‘The Street’, Art Alive and Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto; ‘In a Figurative Identity’, Easel Gallery, Singapore (all in 2007); and exhibitions at Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai (2004); The Nehru Centre, London (2002); the Emirate Towers, Dubai (2001).

The internationally acclaimed artist’s works have been featured at several group exhibitions, such as '10 x 10', Gallery Threshold, Delhi (2010); 'Black is Beautiful', India Fine Art, Mumbai (2010); 'The Open Cage', Galerie Sara Arakkal, Bangalore (2009); 'Indian Harvest' at SG Private Banking, Singapore (2009); ‘Tatva’, The Elements at Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2006). His select participations include 'Art Celebrates 2010: Sports and the City', to coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Delhi; 'Master’s Corner' at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (2010 ); 5th Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Italy; Biennale Internazionale Dell' Arte Contemporanea; Arad International Biennale, Romania. (all in 2005); 4th Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Italy (2003); 4th Egyptian International Print Triennial (2003), and Cairo International Biennale in 2001.

Among the prestigious honors and awards he has won are Lorenso-De-Medici Gold medal at 5th Florence International Biennale, Italy (2005); Varnashilpi Venkatappa Award from the Government of Karnataka for art (2005);. Arad International Biennale award (2005); Lorenso-De-Medici silver medal at the 4th Florence Biennale (2003); Shikhar Sanman, Department of Culture, Madhya Pradesh Government (2001); QINGDAO Inter National Print Biennial of China (2000); Raza Award, Bhopal (1994); Government of India Fellowship, HRD Ministry, Delhi (1989-92); National Award, Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi (1987); an award at the 3rd Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, Bangladesh (1986); and at International Asian European Biennial, Turkey (1980), among others. Besides columns and articles in leading publications, he has also penned a book titled, ‘The Book’.

Many of his works have been featured in some of the world’s most renowned museums like the Museum of Modern Art, Louvre Museum, museums in Scotland and South Africa, as well as the British Museum, which showcased his portfolio, entitled ‘The Textures Of Silence’, prints of his Chinese Ink artwork. All these institutions accept only those works that meet their stringent standard. Importantly, these works have generated funds, diverted to social causes, a fact that satisfies him as much as recognition as artist. For example, one at MOMA was auctioned to generate money for AIDS patients. His work, ‘HOPE’, in MoMA's collection 2010, formed part of a charity initiative in Durban, South Africa.

Gradually, the figures 'fused' into the background. In the 70's, he indulged in figurative art, recollecting his struggle, reviving images from his past. His early paintings were akin to studies in abstract of city dwellers’ lives, done mostly in bright colors. Later, his growing inclination to identify with social issues started reflecting in them. According to him, he makes a consciously effort to synthesize the figurative and abstraction.

Though colors are important to him, they seemingly define and denote darkness; moving more towards black. He often tones down the exuberance of flaming colors to the dictates of his inner force. In fact, the darker the colors, the more lively they become to him. For him black remains the strongest color. Having studied the works of Vermeer and Rembrandt, he was fascinated by the usage of light in their artworks, especially Rembrandt. His focus is as much on the texture of his canvases, often imparting then a grainy, rough surface, alluding to peeling and cracked walls.

'An Inner Fire' by him revolved portrayed many faces - some pleasant, some familiar, and some rather strange, half-concealed and barely visible - created from memory. They provided acute glimpses of ubiquitous human faces, their pointed expressions, and intense emotions. Many of his paintings feature a forlorn figure, simply standing or restlessly sitting on the edge. The face, he reveals, whether of a woman or man, is himself, a quiet observer; and alone. He adds, "I’ve been painting this (character) for over 20 years; I am not bald, I am not a woman, but still am sure it's me!"

A reflection of Yusuf and Sara Arakkal’s love for art was in a gallery that they together formed. She recounts: “He was the passionate artist, engrossed for hours in his paintings. When the visuals emerged I was amazed and proud. More than his words I understood his silences. I grew up seeing, inhaling and breathing art under the wings of an artist for almost four decades. I knew some day I would follow his footsteps into the art world.”

In moving from one socially relevant theme to another, Yusuf Arakkal demonstrates that his job as an artist is to find a clear, simple way to communicate through a language not exclusive to one set of rigid individuals bound by ideology, religion, or community, but by a broader philosophy of life that can cut through all such barriers.