Dr. Sreekumar Padmanabhan is a doctor by profession and a painter by passion. He was born and brought up in the southern state of Kerala in India. People who know Sreekumar say that he could sketch figures and animals, at the age of 3, even before he could talk properly!
He finds practising a demanding profession like being a doctor, which consumes about 11 hours of his time in a day and being a painter, which is his passion, challenging but art has always been his getaway, and painting, he says, is like yoga therapy and it calms him down. His family also supports him a great deal, when it comes to following his passion. ILQ was intrigued by this doctor-painter and got in touch with Dr. Sreekumar to get an insight on his dedication towards painting and how Qatar has helped him continue his passion. This is what he had to say:
My mother tells me that even before I started to talk properly, by the age of three, I was scribbling animal and human figures onto pieces of paper. Later, I used to draw inspiration from images from storybooks, magazines and calendars. I was encouraged a lot by my Kindergarten School Principal and teachers, which really meant a lot to me. Our family has connections with the Royal Family of Travancore, and hence, I got the exquisite opportunity to see original Ravi Varma paintings, which adorned the palace walls of Kowdiar in Trivandrum, Kerala.
I took a small break from active painting during my middle and high school years because I was too focused on my studies. Once I joined my Medical College, I restarted painting. During those five years, I participated in more than a dozen youth festivals across the State of Kerala and won many prestigious awards which really boosted my confidence. I feel my real growth as an artist happened once I reached the GCC in 1997, where I had the chance to interact with many international artists and get to know different mediums to work on. In particular, my past 14 years here in Qatar have been extremely fruitful for the artist in me, in terms of learning from my peers and improving my craft.
Living in Qatar has been a fortunate experience for me, both for my career as a doctor and in my growth as an artist. As a doctor, it was here in Qatar where I got the opportunity to pursue my higher studies in medicine, mainly because of the encouragement and support from my colleagues and faculty.
As an artist, I got introduced to Katara Cultural Village in 2014. From that year onwards, I have been a regular participant in the exhibitions held there. I got the chance to interact with artists from all over the globe because of these various exhibitions. With the support of Dr. Mohan Thomas, who is an avid art lover, supporter, and a senior Indian resident of Qatar, I managed to organize a collective of like-minded artists called “VAFI” (Visual Arts Forum India) – Qatar, which is affiliated with the Indian Cultural Centre. I am also a member of MAPS International, which is another successful Qatar-based cultural organization.
Initially, I was skeptical of how realistic art and human figures would be perceived in Arab culture. Thankfully, my interactions with my fellow Qatari artists during these years cleared any such doubts. I was really amazed to see the skill in realistic art and portrait painting by many of my fellow Qatari artists. Any time you feel like you need a boost of creativity, take a walk through one of our museums here. Seeing the works on display there will give you a fresh burst of creative energy.
As a general achievement that I am very proud of: I have been part of more than 40 painting exhibitions (both solo and group shows) in Qatar and other parts of the GCC, which were well received.
But if I have to mention a single achievement: In 1989, I was awarded the title of “KALAPRATHIBHA” (which translates to Jewel of Arts) by Kerala University during their annual Youth Festival, which was attended by students from over 200 colleges in Kerala. I feel humbled and deeply honoured to be bestowed with that title.
I feel that I am able to truly express myself through my paintings. I evolve as a person alongside my artistic skills. As I grow as an individual, the nature of the subjects of my paintings also evolve and change. Being able to look back and see visibly how much I’ve developed is something that I love about painting.
When I was young, I used to initially paint animals and landscapes. You could say I sort of got addicted to doing human figures and portraits when I started actually getting them correct on paper, as I was thrilled by the way I was able to convey the story of the painting through the emotions in the eyes and face of the figures I drew.
As I mentioned before with regards to realistic painting, my first inspiration was the legendary Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma. Initially, I used to reproduce the works of the great masters, to get a basic understanding of realistic paintings. Later, I moved on to making my own original works. My mother Sushama, and later my wife Hema, volunteered to be my regular models and muse.
I used to collect photographs from newspapers and magazines and make a scrapbook to be used as a reference. However, now I have lots of photographer friends who share with me their beautiful captures which inspire my creativity.
I am a huge cinema buff, so beautiful frames and the associated contexts from movies also inspire me. I used to travel a lot and these trips opened up new landscapes, imageries and cultures for me to work on.
So, when it comes to choosing my subject, I mainly paint realistic human figures, because I like to convey a message through human emotions, through posture, facial expressions and the setting. My paintings have a clear message and do not require any lengthy explanations to understand. I like to depict sheer optimism and stimulate inspiration in viewers through my works.
In the past few years, I have returned to painting animals, especially horses, which I find very handsome and beautiful.
I would say my creative process is rather straightforward. After deciding on a subject (whether based on a real person or an existing painting/photograph), I first form a clear vision of the expected output in my mind. I then start the outline sketch, then fill in with paints, and eventually try to see if it reaches what my mind expects.
Earlier when I used to reproduce famous paintings, I used to strive for near perfection and would finish it, feeling very pleased with myself. However, when I revisit these works after a few months, they might look way below my standards. Instead of getting upset, I usually paint the same subject again after a few months or years and try to improve on myself. With each attempt, I use the same subject in different contexts and backdrops, and each time I feel a different thrill and energy on completion.
I think the success of a real artist is going beyond capturing the physical resemblance and evoking an emotion in the minds of the viewers.
I love the works of the great masters of the 17th to early 20th century. These include Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bernini, Sir Joshua Reynolds, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Singer Sargent, Raja Ravi Varma, Rembrandt to name a few. Each of these realistic artists had something special that attracted me. Michelangelo's anatomical perfection, the mysteriousness in Da Vinci's works, the Baroque style and once again anatomy of Bernini's sculptures, the brilliant use of colours by Sir Reynolds, the heavenly and ethereal beauty of Bourgeureau's paintings (Oh! I can't express it enough), the bold strokes of Sir John Singer Sargent, the play of light and shade in Rembrandt's works and the Indian touch in Ravi Varma paintings.
Nowadays, I usually use either oil or acrylic paint, but I do like to experiment with a variety of mediums, such as colour pencils, pastels, watercolours, poster colours and charcoal.
I prefer to take life as it comes. I would love to experiment with different art styles and I would like to keep painting for as much as I can.
Apart from painting, I had done sculpturing and cartooning, for which I won prizes during my college days but now I am more focused on painting.
That is a difficult question. I have been painting as far as I can remember, and I became a doctor at the age of 24. Since then, I have always been a doctor-artist and I have never separated one from the other. Being a doctor, I can happily contribute to the wellbeing of society, and I can take care of my family. Being an artist is more for my personal self-expression, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. In either case, both roles have helped me garner goodwill and appreciation in society, and I would like to be remembered for being a positive influence regardless of my undertaking.
The Qatar Government has extended a lot of support to artists, especially through Katara and the Fire Station Museum. It has conducted lots of international exhibitions and workshops, which in turn brings in opportunities for artists to interact, network and learn from each other. Even artists from around the world (such as Damien Hirst, who also has an installation at Sidra) came to Qatar, and a lot of their works can be found throughout the country (such as the various displays at Hamad International Airport). It is also great to see various organizations stepping up to host art shows. For example, Qatar Foundation held a month-long run of MF Hussain paintings.
I appreciate the fact that Qatar hosts many exhibitions free of charge, which gives the general public the opportunity to engage with art. Overall, I would say the art scene in Qatar is definitely growing, and our Government is playing an active role in encouraging it.
I am very thankful to the community of Qatar, for their solidarity during the last three years. The support that the Qatar Government extended to us expatriates was beyond commendable. I hope this togetherness prevails for a long time to come, and that Qatar can set an example worldwide, proving that locals and expatriates can stick together and grow even in the toughest of times.
This question was bound to pop up! My advice to aspiring young artists would be to restrict wasting precious time on online games if possible limit their mobile phone time and regularly spend at least one hour to develop whatever skill or talent that they would like to pursue. They need to be hardworking, because as they say: Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes a lot of determination to achieve your goal.
Do not give up your passion even though you might be choosing a different path as a career. The two are not mutually exclusive, you can develop them simultaneously!
Isn't Dr. Sreekumar's art and journey inspiring? Have you been to any of his exhibitions? Do let us know your thoughts in our comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!
Cover photo credits: Jayan Menon
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