And Art for All - Alamelu Annhamalai

Alamelu Annhamalai’s career as an independent artist began six years ago, right after obtaining her degree in fine arts. Though she was passionate about art, originally she did not plan to turn it into a career, “It started out as a one year break right after college, and I’ve been freelancing since then.” Even as a student, she would take on the occasional commission.

In college she had to choose between studying design and painting and she chose that latter. Talking about studying art she says, “I wouldn’t say that you need an art degree to be an artist, but it’s easier to meet like-minded people at a college and in a career like this, you need all the help you can get.” Personally she feels that studying art has made her appreciate it a lot more.  

Since she started freelancing she has worked on a wide range of projects spanning from book illustrations to backdrops for plays. But she adds that one shouldn’t become a freelancer on a whim and choose it only if you’re completely up for the challenges that lie ahead, she says, “People always take you for granted, they say things like ‘Oh you’re an artist, you must have a lot of free time’ and more often than not they have high and unreasonable expectations, because they don’t understand the back-end processes in art, like managing inventory, websites and marketing.”  Apart from this there are no fixed work hours or schedules and speaking of that she says, “A typical day in the life of an artist is not the same every day. You will make mistakes, but it’s up to you to learn from them and set your own terms.”

Alamelu works with a variety of styles and mediums and recently her attention has been caught by watercolors and charcoals. Before this she was working with oils and acrylics. As most of her time is occupied by commissions, her choice of medium or style usually depends upon the projects that she is involved in. But she loves experimenting and her Literature series is proof of that. For this series she takes pages from actual books that contain passages or lines that affected her and illustrates them. In this manner she painted an entire book that spans 55 pages.

She is also ambidextrous, an ability which she frequently employs while painting. She tells me that it began as an experiment to satisfy her curiosity, she says “I’m right handed and I thought I could work faster if I used both hands. I was intrigued by the idea and I began practicing by painting the same object with both hands, then I moved on to mirrored objects, two different objects in the same scene and even drawing upside down.”  Besides these she has also made paintings based on songs and from photographs she takes.  

She also teaches art, and she began by teaching art to school kids on the weekends. Speaking of this she says, “I wanted to see how art could help people. With kids, the effects were positive and varied. A lot of parents came to me and said that their child was doing well in studies after they began painting, while some said it gave their children something to focus on.” Alamelu believes in using art for therapy and she says “Everyone must have painted at some point in their lives, and I believe that you can tell a lot about a person from the way they draw.” Apart from teaching children, she also hosts paint nights, which are fun workshops for people who have never painted before.

 Despite the many positivities of art, it is not seen as something essential to nurturing the mind of a child, as most schools tend to focus entirely on other subjects. Alamelu is all for including art in schools and she says, “Everything around you is designed by an artist of some kind. So saying that art is useless and keeping children away from it is not fair to them. So I believe that art should be available as an option for children in schools.” She adds that the schools that do teach art as a subject to their students focus too much on the Western modes of art while neglecting the rich and varied forms available in India.

Since starting out she has exhibited her work on many occasions. She has also done two solo exhibitions. The first one was in 2017 at the Lalit Kala Akademi. It was titled ‘A Soldier of Hope’ and it showcased over a hundred of her paintings. Her second exhibit was last year right before the lockdown came into effect. It was a fundraiser for the Blue Cross of India. Recently she has also worked on a calendar for the Blue Cross, where each month has a splendid rendition of a four-legged friend.

Apart from mesmerizing viewers with her skills on canvas and paper, she brings the same magic to the walls where she paints murals. She tells me that a mural involves a lot of planning and physical energy, since it involves a fair amount of climbing and balancing on precarious platforms. But she loves working on murals since they make art more accessible. Expounding on this she says, “I believe that art should be for everyone. Going to an exhibition should become something as common as going to the theater to see a movie.”

Right now she is putting together an online art show, which is a fundraiser for the cerebral palsy centre in Chetpet while also working on few commissions. She advises young artists to be confident in what they create and keep working towards their vision, while paying attention to the business aspects of art like marketing and selling their work. In the future she plans to start her own studio and teach art to other passionate people.  

You can check out Alamelu's art works on her Instagram handle @alamelu24

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