For someone who has been paralysed by a degenerative disease and confined to bed for nearly 18 years now, painter R. Udhaikumar has been astonishingly prolific, making nearly 700 paintings in the last 10 years. He told Vidya Venkat that persons with disability need to be recognised by their talent.
Art is a way of making one’s life meaningful for a person with disability. “I live through my paintings,” says Mr. Udhaikumar, who has to be propped up with pillows under his arms and limbs to stay steady. Surviving on a liquid diet, he takes up to a month to finish a painting.
“I get fatigued if I sit and paint for too long,” he says. Affected with spinal muscular atrophy, his muscles are wasted. He can move only two fingers in his left hand, with which he paints.
But what is it that prompts him to be at it despite the odds? “For me it’s therapy,” he explains. “It’s my way of expressing my innermost thoughts. It also helps let out frustrations,” he says.
Having picked up the nuances of painting by attending a workshop held by the abstract artist K.M. Adimoolam, Mr. Udhaikumar’s oeuvre comprises monotone sketches and acrylic paintings which include landscape and abstract work. “Making portraits of the self is the most challenging task,” he says.
His self-portraits are mostly monotone sketches that show him bending over a canvas from the behind. “Imagining myself while drawing is the hard part,” says the artist, who has reproduced even paintings of famous archaeological sites he has seen on television.
His work surprises with a splash of bright colours – a yellow horse on a red backdrop, a turquoise blue sky before the rain… They are partly inspired by fantasy and partly by observing daily life, he says.
He was 13 years old when his spinal cord got bent and he became immobile. He finished schooling but could not pursue education. “Television is my window to the world,” he says. “I watch channels such as Discovery and other history programmes from which I draw inspiration for my work.”
It has been three years since Mr. Udhaikumar exhibited his paintings, though he is eager to reach out to the world through his work. “Getting the paintings framed is difficult as it involves a lot of money and effort,” he says.
Living with aged parents who are pensioners, he says he sometimes cannot afford the kind of money needed to put together an exhibition. He is also eager to show his work to veteran Tamil actor Sivakumar, who is also a painter, and get feedback from him on his work.
“I want to be recognised by my work, not my disability,” he stresses. “My muscles may be weak, but I am keeping my mind firm.”
(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition dated Jun 07, 2009)