When children walked into Suresh Jayaram’s public-private studio, 1Shanti Road, they were very taken by the serenity of the space. Comprised of few rooms and lots of open space, his art studio is a harmonious reflection of public and private space. Somehow, I felt this energy hum through the children as they worked at his studio. For his sessions with the students, Suresh decided to bring the children’s attention to the world of minimalism: What does art look like when it’s stripped of colour?
Someone famous once said that when you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls. And what Suresh set the children out to do was something similar – to bring out the soul in their works using black and white colours.
Dipping into his academic background, Suresh began the class by arranging a hunt around his studio. The children’s task was to sketch any object made of black and/or white that caught their attention. The agenda was to get them to grow accustomed to the eccentric studio and explore spaces that weren’t, but could become, their own. As they went around the house, scouting for objects unseen by others, they noticed that limiting their work to one colour brought to light how crude and childish their own sketches seemed.
“You cannot sketch by just seeing an object. You need to understand its form; touch it, hold it, feel it and find its centre. Then draw its outline and work your way in. you need not replicate the object. But you need to enjoy the process and find as many unique things about your object as possible. This uniqueness is how you will develop your style”, Suresh advised them.
Suresh’s whole exercise with the students seemed to be centred on slowing them down enough to notice the rustle of the leaves, the movement of the snails and be at one with this change. Predictably, there was great agitation and unrest, especially when the children noticed that their works were not as well-defined as their expectation. They constantly turned to him for assurance more than guidance.
But with the assurance came the urge to try more, experiment more and see more. This was reflected in their successive sketches of nature inspiration, cityscapes, portraits and abstract patterns. Their works grew richer not in terms of technique (which Suresh pointed out would take years to master), but in terms of life and details.
“Colour is just a distraction. Once you take off the distraction, all you will find is the form. To be a good artist, you need to see, understand and appreciate form above all else”, explains Suresh. We have become so attuned to colours in our lives that the idea of black and white either intimidates or depresses us because of its sheer minimalism. But Suresh Jayaram has opened a world of black and white and all its shades of grey for the children. And boy, do they love it!