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How artist Yusuf Arakkal, who passed away on 4 October, shaped the art scene in Bengaluru

Well known Bengaluru figurative artist, sculptor, writer and poet Yusuf Arakkal is no more. The 71-year-old artist passed away on Tuesday morning (4 October), after being unwell for the past few months. He’s survived by his wife Sara Arakkal and son Shibu Arakkal.

Yusuf Arakkal (1945-2016); Image from Facebook

Yusuf Arakkal (1945-2016); Image from Facebook

An interesting quote by Arakkal, on his website, describes his life’s work best: “There is an anguished being, disturbed and in distress somewhere deep inside me. A human being who yearns for a meaningful existence. It is the human presence that arouses my attention and stirs my creative inner space. I have been committed through my work, seeking a definition of human situations."

Born in Chavakkad in Kerala, in the royal Arakkal family in the year 1945, the young Arakkal lost both his parents at the age of six. He ran away from home at 17 years to Bengaluru to become an artist and worked on many small time jobs before he became who he was.

He got his formal education in arts, from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (popularly known as CKP), in the city and also trained under Jay Verma, from the illustrious family of Ravi Verma.   He won the National Award for his art in 1983 and opened a gallery in his wife’s name, Galerie Sara Arakkal at the suburb of Brookefields. The gallery holds regular exhibitions of other artists’ works. On his Facebook page, Yusuf Arakkal proudly announced the 12th Annual show 2015 in November last year, with 51 Indian artists.

Arakkal has held over 40 solo shows at various cities in India and several solo and collaborative shows abroad in various mediums including oils, watercolours, graphics, collage and sculptures. His last exhibition was a series of 135 portraits of contemporary artists.

Now, what is remarkable about Arakkal is not only did he make Bengaluru his home, he also went on to establish the art scene in the city, along with his contemporaries, many of whom were also from outside Karnataka. Well known as a figurative artist, he is remembered by his friends in the fraternity for his prolific body of work and his unique style as a figurative artist. His friends also remember him for his generosity and how he helped many young artists, some them financially too.

Firstpost reached out to some of his equally famous contemporaries to share their memories of Yusuf.

Renowned artist SG Vasudev, who was on his way to the funeral, said, “We have a long association. I knew Yusuf from the '60s. Together we created the Karnataka Artists Association in the '70s. About eight to ten artists would get together and exhibit their works at various places. He had several followers and influenced many other artists. He also wrote a column in the Indian Express and wrote poetry too. ”

Visual artist and art historian Suresh Jayaram said, “I think he was one of the most prominent artists in South India.  He would paint people from the middle class, the poor and farmers. He was somebody who connected with young people and young artists in Bengaluru and encouraged talent. When I was a young student in the 1990s, he encouraged me to write. He was always telling us how he suffered a lot as a child; his was a rags-to-riches story.”

Fellow Keralite and sculptor Balan Nambiar, who was also on his way to Arakkal’s home as soon as he heard the news in the morning, said, “I have known him since he came to Bengaluru from Kerala. Must be around 1971 or so, when he joined HAL and arranged to work in shifts, so that he could study art at CKP. He was a very prolific artist and was always working night and day and built a great body of work. He had a very unique style, which allowed him to be technically perfect. He wasn’t interested much in cultural functions and you would never see him in Alliance Française or Chowdiah.  He helped many young artists, many of them financially too.”

Renowned painter Paresh Hazra was shocked to hear the news of Arakkal's death. He said, “We knew each other since his CKP days, maybe 1982-84. We always went for each other’s shows. Yusuf was the chief guest for my recent show too. He established his unique style in his oil paintings. Recently he started doing some charcoal drawings too.”

But what Hazra remembers best is an article published in the Indian Express 12 years ago, about how artists from outside Karnataka had come to Bengaluru and established the Karnataka art scene, where both he, being from West Bengal and Arakkal being from Kerala were mentioned along with the other names.

In his art column in Bangalore Mirror Jayaram describes how intrinsic Arakkal’s work was to shaping the art scene in Bengaluru, “at the arrival lounge of the Kempe Gowda International Airport, one is welcomed by a gleaming metal mural representing flight, done by Yusuf. The artist's presence is enshrined in this city”.

Probably the most fitting finale to Yusuf Arakkal’s life and times from those who knew him well and admired his work, are lines from his own poem, 'Paper Crosses', written in 1997:

“Dead sleep in peace

While the living despair

The absence of death”

Updated Date: Oct 04, 2016 18:04 PM

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