Call for social change 
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur

February 20, 2009 
In an age when life and arts have grown complex, the paintings of Madhavan Eriyat, a memorial show, in Durbar Hall Art Gallery, Kochi is a refreshing whiff of wind. Simplicity is his signature and straight forward is the narrative evoking nostalgia for a vanishing mode of expression. 
As the title suggests, the show paints the vision of a freedom fighter: ideal India, ideal youth, and the dreams of a forgotten generation. Oil paintings, painstakingly done, create a sober atmosphere and sombre mood. No flashy colours. Green, shades of ochre and yellow with blue, paint the backdrop. Motives of binary opposites in muted forms suggest the philosophy of the artist. Even rocks carry the imprint of human faces. Populous India seems to be the concern of the artist. 
As a young man, Madhavan Eriyat fought for the freedom of his country. Born in Kerala in 1923, the freedom fighter found himself in jail in 1942 when barely twenty. After independence, he set out to build a career in advertising in Bangalore and Bombay, specialised in graphic art and Typography. In 1989, he came home and started painting to fulfil a childhood urge. He passed away last November. His paintings are not for sale. And it is the first exhibition of his work, put up by his nephew Suresh Eriyat as a memorial show. 
His paintings hold an introvert's silent message for social change. A huge canvas greets you. It affirms the need for peace. Soldier surrenders, an innocent lady is in the focus. A bird sits on his gun as if it is a twig and his helmet has turned into a potted plant. A snake and a mongoose are lying side by side. Shades of yellow indicate the dawn of a new era. 

'Arms down...' is a recurring gesture in many of his works. And we think of our planet threatened by the arms race.
Religious harmony is a strong theme that runs through all his pieces. Motives of three dominant religions of India linger in the background and binary opposites speak of co-existence. 'Prayer Time' show cases a Hindu, Muslim and Christian praying. It's man's urge to pray. And an animal has two heads, that of a cow and of a tiger! Coexistence is emphasized. The lines that suggest the figure of Mahatma Gandhi over the figure in focus, chronicles the history of the freedom struggle. Hindus and Muslims had flocked to the call of the Mahatma. But now, that unity is coming apart with individuals returning to the comforts and insularities of the communities and politicians trying to exploit their sentiments.

"He was greatly pained at the emerging situation when Babri Masjid fell," recalled Suresh.

Dawn of freedom
Prayer time

Slowly we find an evolution in the artist's thought and philosophy. In 'Harvest,' we find the joy of hard work. 'Work is worship' seems to be the underlying thought that brings about a new dawn. 'Monument of Unity' points to humanism as the core religion - temple, mosque and church fade away.
There are other themes too. 'Butterfly' indicates deforestation, 'Greenery on the Rocks' forestation. 'Nuclear Energy' speaks of his hopes. His paintings reflect contemporary concerns.

Joy of work
Harvest time

An egalitarian world where girls and women render colours to the joys of life is the artist's vision.  'Towards Wisdom,' 'Safe Hands,' 'Family' portray the mores of life in India. And the quiet of the rural landscape pulsate with energy; humans in harmony with Nature; quite flows the river of life.
Here is an artist who dispassionately thinks of human nature and its various attributes set against the pastoral charms. 'The Flautist' is inspired by Nature.  'Veena' sings songs of Nature. 'Fancy' is a charming portrait of Nature in human form.  'Nature's Song' has an obvious message: the mature lady passes her message to the young girl. 'Music Enthrals' tells how music knows no boundaries. Mr. Eriyat's background was musical as well. He used to enjoy both classical music and dance. 
In his autumnal days with a brush in his hand, the artist seems to have thought more of our nation's failures. And hence his message is to wake up, to think, and to act.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to