Born: 1956

Surendran Nair - Paintings


Born in 1956 in Onkoor, Kerala, Surendran Nair received his diploma for painting in 1981 and his BFA (Painting) in 1982 from the College of Arts, Trivandrum, Kerala. After four years, he gained his postgraduate Diploma in Print Making from the University of Baroda in 1986.

Surendran’s life as a college student started in the classroom of a botany course of a Bachelor Science program where he spent most of the time doodling and drawing people around him. It was his brother Manmadhan who suggested he apply to an art college. During this period, Surendran, along with his colleagues experimented with language, still lives and landscapes as typical subjects of learning. However, drawing portraits became an area of special interest. Most of his early works are studies of his friends and models that the college provided for the life study classes.

Sher-Gil - Indian Artist

Apart from the interest with portraits, Surendran gathered his inspiration from the works of writers, like Dostoevsky, and artists like, Pablo Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec. The Expressionist visual language through work of artists like, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, also facilitated some stylistic assimilations. Political pieces as social commentaries like the drawings and prints of George Grosz were also source of inspiration.

Nair composes his paintings around protagonist and predicaments recruited from diverse image-archives: from Greek myth and Indic iconography; from heraldry and the idioms of pamphleteers and poster-makers; from the memory of his student days in Trivandrum and Baroda; and from the turbulent political history of postcolonial India. Although the initial exposure he chose was more towards Western art, the local cultural sensibilities of Kerala, such as the theatre and dance forms of Kathakali and Theyyam, or the murals of Mattancherry, also cast their influences. The rituals of religious practice and festivals celebrated in the region through connections with family were intertwined in his life. These witnessed practices, inherited from those days of living in his family home, are renegotiated by Surendran in his work. However he examines them for what they evoke in the present context of the appropriation of religion by political factions, rather than identifying with the beliefs implicit in them.

The model of theatre is central to Nair’s art. His manifestation with the ceremonial of theatre is manifest: it is in his evocation of the ritual of making up and presenting oneself in a persona, literally the mask of another personality; in the gestures of self-transformation that his characters perform, allowing for passage from one shape or identity to another; and in the ensemble action of animated visual image and stimulating text that characterizes them. Nair’s paintings are either partly made up of, or rely quite strongly on words(…)It manifest itself as the annotation to the image and does not describe the image but amplifies it(…) Similarly, titles are important element in his work. Sometimes it is quite elaborate and at other times he uses the visuals itself as titles, instead of words. He uses the constant play between images and words to create surprising association and meanings.

The last few years of Surendran Nair’s work can be conceptualize through the Corollary Mythologies series. To describe his body of work he said, “Corollary Mythologies are, in a way, about belonging and dissent. In that sense, I imagine my works to have political undertones - however subtle that it may be - which are informed by history mythology, real and imaginary events, art history, notions of identity and its relationship with tradition and modernity, language and sexuality, religious and other faiths, etc. Without emphasizing any one of these in particular, I tend to address these issues simultaneously. Sometimes rendered sentimentally, literally, cryptically or otherwise, metaphorically oblique, they are both detached and reflective; at times with a mischievous gaze, sometimes making innocent jokes, and at other times being ironical and quizzical as well.

In 2000, his painting titled 'An actor rehearsing the interior monologue of Icarus' at a group show to be held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi attracted controversy. Nair's work depicting a naked Icarus, the Greek mythological figure, on top of the Ashoka Pillar, was rejected after it was deemed irreverent to a national symbol. Nair then withdrew from the show as a mark of protest.

Since 1986, Nair has exhibited his work solo and as part of prominent group exhibitions. Among his sselect shows are Graphic Prints, Kerala, Ernakulam, 1986; Landscapes & Other Drawings, Vithi, Baroda, 1989; Drawings, Graphics & Paintings, New Delhi, 1989; Paintings & Drawings, Mumbai, 1990; Paintings & Drawings,Mumbai, 1995; The Labyrinth of Eternal Delight, Sydney, 1996; The Labyrinth of Eternal Delight, Baroda, 1997; Corollary Mythologies, Mumbai, 1998; Bad Behaviour of Singularities, Mumbai, 2005; Bad Behaviour of Singularities, Delhi, 2006; Pernoctation & Early Drawings, Mumbai, 2008; Pernoctation & Early Drawings, Cochin, 2009.

An internationally acclaimed artist, Surendaran Nair’s works are in several public and private collections in India and abroad. He lives and works in Baroda.

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book Itinerant Mythologies: Surendran Nair published by Sakshi Gallery & Synergy Art Foundation Ltd., Colaba, Mumbai 2009


  • Itinerant Mythologies: Surendran Nair

Top 10 Auction Records

Title Price Realized
Study for Suffrage: A Fountain Sculpture on the Road to Lumbini Epiphan (Cuckoonebulopolis) USD 91,715.69
The Labyrinth of Eternal Delight USD 90,094.42
Pernoctation (Cuckoonebulopolis) USD 72,000
Untitled USD 48,000
The Ostrich Play USD 42,000
Forty Winks - 1 (Corollary Mythologies) USD 43,750
Obviously: The Doctrine Of The Forest (Cuckoonebulopolis) USD 34,700
I Beg Your Pardon: The Scorpion Act II - An Actor Meditating on a Character of an Imaginary Play USD 32,811
Digambari (The Sky-Clad): Elysium (Cuckoonebulopolis) USD 28,728
I Beg Your Pardon: The Scorpion Act II - An Actor Meditating on a Character of an Imaginary Play USD 27,541