Posted February 28, 2007

Visiting Fulbright Scholar Suresh K. Nair: Moving murals from the inside out

Moving murals from the inside out

He is equally comfortable with ancient, mythology-inspired wall paintings and the contemporary environmental art of Christo.

For Suresh K. Nair, a visiting Fulbright scholar from India who is completing a six-month residence at the Tyler School of Art, all art springs from nature and yet transcends the physical world with its infusion of the philosophical and the spiritual.

Notwithstanding such metaphysical musing, the artist is also a realist.

Suresh Nair
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg / Temple University

“Sometimes people don’t care about nature — even in India,” he said. “As artists, we have to show the importance of the grass, of butterflies. I want to show that each blade of grass is important.”

He describes himself as “a painter, muralist and teacher.” Nair himself puts the emphasis on muralist. Growing up in the culturally rich Kerala region of India, he was exposed early on to an array of art forms, including folk art and temple art.

When he was 18, he enrolled in the Institute of Mural Painting at Guruvayur, the famous temple town in Kerala, where he studied the traditions and techniques of mural art and visited more than 200 palaces, temples and churches in India’s southern region. Some years later, he attended the Fresco Training Camp at Banasthali in Rajasthan, acquiring the skills of wet and dry fresco and Sagra fito, and spent seven years in graduate and post-graduate study at Viswabharathi University. Currently, he is a lecturer in the department of painting at Sri Sankaracharya University.

His own work reflects his ongoing fascination with the relationship between art and nature.

His mural painting of “Medicinal Plants” on the wall of Kalari Kovilakom Palace meticulously yet artfully depicts an inventory of flora that are used for healing purposes. “In India, if you have a headache, you take a leaf and put it here,” he explained, gesturing to his forehead. The palace is now a healing center/spa for the practice of Ayurveda, an alternative medicinal therapy that originated in India thousands of years ago.

In India, murals are traditionally found inside palaces and temples, Nair pointed out. “The temple is a classical place for art in a culture that is rich in the fine arts.”

But he also recognizes that not everyone is religiously observant.

“I want to create my art outside, in a public space, where it can be accessible to all people, spiritual or not,” he said.

It was the Tyler School of Art’s premier reputation and Philadelphia’s strong mural tradition, along with the city’s historical and cultural richness that especially attracted him.

“President Hart said in the Temple Times that Temple, and the city, are vibrant and diverse. I feel that,” he said.

At Tyler, Nair has worked with Professor Nicholas Kripal, chair of the crafts department, and Julie York, also of the crafts department, studying ceramics techniques and materials that he will incorporate into his vision of creating public murals in outdoor sites.

The irony of going from studying art in the temples of India to pursuing the study of art at Temple is not lost on Nair.

“Both ‘temples’ have been very inspiring experiences for me.”