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Monday, January 25, 2021

From Leaf Cutting To Letter Portraits – Kerala’s Banana Leaf Artist is Redefining Modern Art

Rajendran is equally competent in a wide range of art forms. He is one of the very few banana leaf artists in the world.

Rajendran Vadakkepadath, an art teacher and brilliant painter from Palakkad, Kerala, is now widely recognised as the state’s banana leaf artist. Following years of research, he invented a secret technique to use a dried banana leaf as a canvas for exquisite art. Most astonishingly, these banana leaf paintings can last up to a century or more!

But, banana leaf art is not all Rajendran has in store. Over the years, he has experimented with a wide range of art forms and successfully established his expertise in many. From Maradona’s silhouette on a banyan leaf to customised portraits using someone’s name – tons of his works have gone viral. His finesse and eye for perfection in every artwork deserve a special mention.

art
Rajendra Vadakkepadath

Banana Leaf painting

Rajendran, who is the founder of R.J. School of Arts in Palakkad, has been engaged in painting for quite a long time. He takes a keen interest in sustainable and traditional art forms from around the world. He started dabbling in leaf art nearly a decade ago, starting with palm leaves. Inspired by dried banana stem paintings of Masai tribe in Kenya, Africa, Rajendran decided to use banana leaf as his canvas.

He first used the medium in 2013. However, unlike palm or peepal leaves, dried banana leaves are flaky, fragile and very hard to preserve. After years of dedicated research, he devised a secret method to render his banana leaf canvas fit for painting.

Kerala Banana leaf artist
A banana leaf painting by Rajendran

“I have devised a secret method of preserving banana leaves through years of trial and error. The leaf is treated with milk, followed by a series of meticulous steps,” shares Rajendran.

He uses acrylic paint on banana leaves since water or oil-based colours do not work well on the unique canvas. Rajendran has also adopted the reverse colouring technique to let the original burnt-ochre tint of the dry leaf accentuate his art.

A single banana leaf painting takes months to complete but the end results are spectacular. When preserved in glass frames, these paintings are likely to last for more than a century. Rajendran happens to be one of the very few banana leaf artists in the world. His paintings have already been featured in national and international exhibitions.

Kerala Banana leaf artist

Leaf Cutting Art

Rajendran’s latest passion has been leaf cutting art – where he intricately carves a single leaf to express a face or silhouette. When held against the light, a beautiful portrait becomes vividly perceptible. He generally uses banyan leaves for this art form since these are thicker, glossier and more long-lasting than other leaves.

An ardent football fan, Rajendran recently earned the spotlight after his unique tribute to the late football legend Diego Maradona. He created a marvellous leaf portrait of his favourite player, which took him four hours to finish.

leaf art
Maradona in leaf cutting art

Ever since then, Kerala’s banana leaf artist has also gifted such leaf portraits to his close friends and admirers.

Letter Art

Another unparalleled method practised by the versatile artist is letter art. Here, he uses a person’s name hundreds of times to create their portrait. Using pencils and his exceptional talent, he has flawlessly sketched celebrities, friends and families.

Kerala Banana leaf artist
A letter art sketch of a family

Other than these, Rajendran Vadakkepadath has also mastered the more common art styles like water or oil pigments on canvas, pen art or pencil sketches. He is equally competent in all of these styles.

Kerala Banana leaf artist's sketch

But, he continues to learn and incorporate newer styles in his art. It is only a matter of time before he amazes us with another of his uniquely experimental creations.

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