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Artist Namboothiri: Doyen of Drawings, Sketched ‘Malayali Life’ Passed Away

K M Vasudevan Namboothiri, popularly hailed ‘Artist Namboothiri’ in Kerala’s social-cultural scenario for the prior seven decades, passed away. Namboothiri (1925-2023) was a prolific literary illustrator, illustrating many popular characters for literary publications in the southern state of Kerala—an Artist renowned for his iconic drawings and gifted life to fictitious characters in Malayalam writings.

Artist Namboothiri, as the Malalayi community affectionately called him, was a doyen of illustrations. He started his illustrated career by travelling with Malayalam literature and publications, now viewed as a golden branch of Kerala’s Cultural history. Prominent writers like Janapit Awardee celebrated M T Vasudevan Nair, and V.K.N. praised the sketches he did for their fictional characters. “People did not see my Bhima in ‘Randamoozham’, but his”, M T Vasudevan said once, and celebrated writer V.K.N. referred to him as the ‘Paramashivm’ of line sketches.

School Children by Artist Namboothiri credit: Madhyamam

Artist Namboothiri was born in a Namboothiri family in 1925 at Karuvattu Mana in Ponnani, as his parents, Parameshwaran Namboothiri and Sreedevi Antharjanam, eldest son. The sculptures inspired him to paint and practice in the Sukapuram temple near his house. Sukapuram is one of the oldest Brahmin settlements in Kerala and is noted for its Dakshinamurthy (Siva) Temple with a 10th-century single stone and granite writings in old Malayalam script, Vattezhuthu. He moved to Madras to learn Art and join the Government College of Fine Arts, Madras. He studied under Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and S. Dhanapal and met his life-changing legendary artist, K.C.S. Paniker.

Artist Namboothiri with his painting- Credit: Pinterest

Namboothiri learned Sanskrit and traditional Ayurveda medicine during his boyhood and did sketches in charcoal his surrounding life. He continues bringing the fictional characters into a visual language as he starts to draw, Kerala’s rustic life reflected in his drawing in multilayers. He kept this simplified form in his sculptural works that conveyed directly, which carried multiple mediums like wood, metal, stone, cement and clay.

Artist Namboothiri- Credit: Manorama

Namboothiri’s drawings and illustrations are celebrated through literary magazines like Samakalika Malayalam, Kala Kaumudi and Mathrubhumi through serialized novels of Malayalam writers such as Thakazhy Shivasankara Pillai, Kesavadev, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, Uroob, S. K. Pottekkatt, Edasseri Govindan Nair, and V.K.N. Namboothiri’s illustrations gives the life for undying fictional characters of classic Malayalam books that help him to reach out the audience of readers, then viewers. He devoted much to the sketches based on Sankaracharya’s Soundarya Lahari, as requested by actor Mohanlal. Namboothiri had worked as the art director for director Aravindan’s movies like Utharayanam and Kanchana Seetha and won Kerala State Film Award for Best Art Director in 1974.

Last Supper by Artist Namboothiri- credit: Manorama

In his works, artists Namboothiri draw landscapes, cities, villages, heritage edifices even after many were lost long ago, people, ensembles, festivals and rituals, and classic arts. He won an artist’s legacy and carried that with his name when literary illustrations, characters, and other drawings were not considered artwork.

Feature image: the Hindu

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