Madras was the 26-year-old artist's muse, inspiring her recent 'Madras in Mini' series
Madras was the 26-year-old artist's muse, inspiring her recent 'Madras in Mini' series

Madras in Mini: This Chennai artist captures the city's gems in miniature

Her first series on Madras was a project titled 'The Madras Catalogue,' which were regular sized paintings 

"I love how each city has its own personality and character, comprising of its physical environs, its people, culture, and associated memories. At the same time, I love a city's familiarity, my personal spots, and the kind of snuggles only a city you know can give you," says  Hemalatha Venkataraman (Hemu), an artist and architect from Chennai.

A city can be anyone's muse, especially Madras can be too, as it has inspired art, music, literature and more. Just like Hemalatha, many have found it to be a comforting and warm city. Thus, Madras was the 26-year-old artist's muse, inspiring her recent 'Madras in Mini' series.

Hemu completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Design Research and Development from The Ohio State University where she was given a complete scholarship and a Graduate Teaching associate position the past three years. However, she is an artist and a poet by passion. "I love the beach, chai, big books, happy dogs, MS Amma, and Chopin...to name a few."

On her recent trip to Chennai in December 2017, she decided to capture the city of Madras and all its quirky elements in miniature art. "I would say I am a very tactile person in that I love physical markers that signify emotional journeys: the process of creation and cities/places fall in that bucket, and so, I mix them together in my art. I usually dab with watercolours and ink, by and large," says Hemu.

Miniature art at its best: Madras is the muse for this 26-year-old artist

The inception of the 'Madras in Mini' project

"At the intersection of being an artist and architect with a deep interest in the communities we live in and the social history we share, I work on live sketches whenever I travel or make time for in the cities I come to reside. I work on drawing places and buildings while being immersed in those places, and its environs. En Plein air work in these urban settings are driven by how my mood is that day, the weather, the sense of people in the area, and the history and architectural tidbits of the building/place itself," says Hemu explaining how she came up with the idea of the miniature art project.

Hemu explained that the regularly sized sketches take anywhere between two to seven hours to complete. "I didn't have that kind of luxury time with me when I went home last December and so, I resorted to keep working on these urban sketches but toy with the scale."

Her first series on Madras was a project titled 'The Madras Catalogue,' which were regular sized paintings, and they were later made into limited edition postcards that sold out.

"As I had worked on 'The Madras Catalogue' before, I knew that this city had hidden gems. even though we grew up in a city for decades, we still get stuck in a bubble sometimes. I wanted to revisit all the things I knew about my city in terms of architecture, culture, literary treasures, art, and everyday ubiquitous lifestyle things and bring that to the forefront...little things we take for granted. I wanted to use that as a means of social commentary to talk about any gaps in how we address things. In the write-ups that accompany the mini sketches, I talk about what it is and any further information from there on," says Hemu.

Hemu added that she wanted to explore more treasure spots in the city when she came in December, after 2.5 years.

It was a rejuvenation, re-visitation, and in some of the sketches of places personal to me, a means to finally close the door on a chapter.

Hemalatha Venkataraman, Artist

Her miniature sketches included an array of things spotted in everyday life of the people living in the city, including maligai kadai, drishti bommais, the idea of community street dogs, old buildings, etc. 

"For instance, with the chai shops, I touched on how these urban spaces are largely for men and how uncomfortable women can be made to feel in those spaces, when I drew the 'Poi Kaal Kudhitrai' sculpture at the traffic intersection in Nungambakkam, I deliberated on what we were doing for these fast vanishing art forms, the signage posts art pieces talked of the changes from hand-painted artisan signs to the current blue, reflective ones and the change in the culture and lifestyle of the urban fabric. These are things we see and experience every day but that which we don't always deliberate about," Hemu explained.

Art-o-holic: 'Madras in Mini' is a series of 50 sketches

Born in Dindigul, then brought up in Madras for two decades, the 26-year-old artist's 'Madras in Mini' series was a total of 50 sketches completed in a span of three weeks. "It takes varying time to complete these sketches, I think the maximum I spent on any sketch is about an hour or hour and a half, based on the details in the sketches."

Hemu also works on other projects simultaneously, as she said she gets bored really quick and needs multiple things to keep her busy at all times. 

"I draw in every tiny gap I get. Umberto Eco, in an interview once mentioned how he writes during 'empty spaces' or 'interstices'. I like to think I do something similar only with art. On that front, I have a couple of dedicated projects other than my lecture doodles and random sketches: The Madras Catalogue, The India Series, America Diaries, The Columbus Catalogue (split into two smaller projects of 'Theatres of Columbus' and 'The Ohio State University Series'), SuperDoodles, and other travel diaries," she added.

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