Murali Nagapuzha – Life on the Corner

Murali NagapuzhaWe were wandering through the acreage around my cottage in Kerala. It is a wilderness of trees, shrubs, bamboo groves and weeds, and even I, at my besotted best know that to call it a garden would be a euphemism. But it is my little piece of paradise and what delights me mostly is its unevenness and its feral wealth. However most people see it only as land that needs to be tamed. I sneaked a surreptious glance at his face. What does he see? I asked myself. A land that needs a firm hand and scythe? Or a land hued with a million shades of green that nourishes the imagination…

He paused near a thechi plant [ixora coccinea]. “Do take good care of this one,” he said “We hardly see the native species anymore. It is hybrids everywhere now…,” he said.

He raised his eyes and they swept across every little mound and dip as he said “You should leave it as it is. All this wilderness is just beautiful!”

I smiled then. For a few minutes, I had worried that almost like everyone else, he would recommend a waterfall by a rockery, sweeping lawns and neat borders and fruit bearing trees.

But this…it was exactly what I had hoped for from a man who painted as Murali Nagapuzha did.

Murali NagapuzhaBotero the Colombian artist writes about the artist and his landscape: “Anybody who tries from the start to make “universal” art is making a big mistake. That is the problem with international art today. That type of art moves just a very small group of people who, in some way, are trying to do the same thing. All great art that exists started out parochial. For example the Impressionists did not paint France; they painted some part of France; Montmartre, Montparnasse, cafe life.

That was not an interpretation of European life, but simply life on the corner. Assyrian art represented the local reality–men hunting lions. Egyptian art showed everyday life. Everything has to start at the beginning, and that beginning is completely local.”

To understand Murali Nagapuzha’s art, we need to first look at Kerala. Where everyday is a painting. Waiting to be absorbed, distilled and captured. Where the sun hangs a whole golden orb in the eastern sky and the wind crackles through the trees and the breeze nudges the undergrowth. Then there are the fields. Yellow stacks of paddy lie supine on the brown thirsty earth where once they stood green and erect waving their stubbly heads to the gods above. Flowers everywhere. Balsam and hibiscus. Yellow trumpet shaped flowers and tiny ‘ari-poo’ in the hedges. Marigolds. Rajakiredam. Thechi… The tree snake coils its green length around a branch while on another a hoopoe pauses for a moment. Ants scurry. Dragon flies hover. Giant ones with bead like eyes, a red and yellow body and gauzey wings. When hordes of them fly close to the land, it will rain that day, folklore says.

So this then is the world of Murali Nagapuzha. Part memory. Part nostalgia. Part a deep abiding love for the wonder of the everyday. Add to this the man that Murali is. A composite of many experiences that turned the indignant scrutiny of the conscientious being into an indefinable lode of artistry. When these come together, the world that disturbs Murali Nagapuzha and the world that he has an intimate understanding of and identification with is amalgamated and absorbed to create a whole new artistic dialect.

In this dialect, the vowels are less rounded and the consonants independent. Pause at the childhood series – where in a bucolic setting children frolic and a cow grazes. The hues of the hibiscus and the variegated leaves of the elephant yam are all familiar. Endearing images echoing with the poignancy of nostalgia. We all know that feeling but then what takes the breath away is the washing line of whiter than white clothes where a brassiere fluttering in the breeze is inserted with a certain and casual cheekiness. Never was art more alive and more resolute.

village dreamsWe see this again and again even as angels hover offering excess and more excess to a landscape already saturated with excess or as fish ache to bite and be part of that already laden fisherman’s catch. As with the cadences of a new dialect that builds itself on the solid syntax of a much used language, Murali Nagapuzha’s work has the resonance of familiarity. We think we know and that we recognize it. Only at first. Murali uses the familiar to entice the eye. Then it is Murali’s world we are privy to. In the Basheer series we are first introduced to the Basheeresque motifs: goats and wondering little boys in ‘half trousers’, clandestine meetings and an ‘umma’ and ‘moplah’ -all positioned in the background while in the foreground Basheer in his armchair waits. This is a Basheer who like Murali draws from the familiar rather than concoct the new. It is both biography and artistic philosophy.

Murali Nagapuzha’s art works with sentiment but at no time are we to dismiss it as sentimental. It is vulnerable in that it allows itself to be perceived as childlike but that is its strength. A child’s innocence, a child’s lack of duplicity, a child like playfulness and a child’s wonder – ‘the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind’-. In a world, where being accessible is considered being popular and hence less worthy, Murali Nagapuzha takes a risk. Not just is his realm figurative but his artistic motifs are drawn from a landscape that is now part of every tourist brochure that celebrates God’s Own country. And yet, without being banal or kitschy, Murali Nagapuzha’s artistic terrain marvels at the Kerala contours and colours and makes it his own. To follow Murali there is be enchanted. It cuts off all escape routes and makes it impossible for us to turn away from his mindscape. What more could an artist aspire for?

Contact Murali Nagapuzha at

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