By Rupanjali Baruah
Painting children can be an arduous enterprise. Children are always restless, they cannot stay at a place too long and if an artist wishes to capture them on his canvas, then he has to get into the mode of that child in the first place. If not, the artist has to rely on his first hand impression of his child model and draw inspiration from them.
Laishram Surjit Khuman, a Manipuri visual artist, born and raised in Assam, dedicates himself to painting mostly children and their world, and he indeed has a special gift for it. We notice a subtle kinship between the artist and his subject, a spontaneous exuberance to capture a child’s world through color, line and brushwork, the unpredictable vivacity that we always associate with children.
His children are caught in their various changing moods, their postures appear at ease either lying supine or prostrate on the ground or standing for a family photo shoot and they do not look awkward or out of place but accurate as if the artist is holding a mirror before us. Their gaze looks back at us encompassing all their innocence and simplicity.
Laishram’s artwork confesses frankly that he wishes to catch the honest disposition of a child, and it may be an imaginative reflection of a real child who had cast a spell on his sensibilities. He is drawn to their stares, their faces in concentration. For him, the child is associated with various aspects of human study, a source of inspiration as well as distraction and fun.
The decision to paint children is in itself significant. As great master Chardin did long ago, Laishram too treats children as independent individuals, their tender relationships with nature, between mother and child. A barefoot child, in threadbare clothes lost in the hues of a blue sky with butterflies hovering here and there is a matter of interest for the artist too. These instances are meant to instill empathy in the viewer for the plight of a child as a city dweller looking for open space and pure air to breathe. These are intimate subject matters, close to the heart of the artist.
The child in his art mostly appears as miniature dolls resembling very close to adults that they may someday grow up to be. And this reminds us of the famous quote, child is the father of man. The artist proves it time and time again. Through such artwork, we see the evolution of a child during various phases of his growth in life – especially childhood. The artist shows us children as who they are, as he catches them at play, in filial relationships or simply alone, at ease and there is the underlying truth to discover how that child will grow up to be. So many attributes of an adult person are already hidden in a child as she/he is today. The artist carefully explores the theme of idleness as well as the various caprices to know the child inside out altogether.
Laishram’s children’s eyes are relatively large that fill us with outsize love, there is no space for fear or revulsion in that communion, and also their skin is so unblemished, clear that these are the attributes that an artist captures on his canvas. They are almost akin to life-size dolls.
The messages delivered through these interpretation of child in art are therefore not trivial or a mere passing interest. The child in art continues to charm the artist, to express sympathy and close observation of that tiny little world. We notice the delicate solemn look on a child’s face through which we sense his inner world. And in making us consider the child as an individual, the artist has achieved something new and inspiring.
Laishram’s paintings done in acrylic on canvas are in flat two dimensional tones and simplified schematic manner. He catches the varied moods that occur in the thoughts of a child, sometimes playful, jubilant, sometimes sulky or slipshod as the case may be. Sometimes we notice an extraordinary energy and impact or a simple metaphor of a pure gaze into the horizon that cannot escape from the intense gaze of the artist. The brushstrokes turn out to be wild and exhilarating as the subject may be. As Charles Baudelaire in 1863 had remarked,”Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.”