This 92-year-old Kerala artist’s love for painting transcends age

Rajagopala Warrier, who spent decades painting portraits, has in his old age, taken up painting for himself, all that he likes to depict.
Village Scene and Artist Rajagopala Warrier
Village Scene and Artist Rajagopala Warrier
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At noon on Saturday, Sreepathy Warrier is finally free to attend a phone call. The morning hours he spends with his father, trying out portrait painting, are not to be disturbed. The father, a 92-year-old artist, guides him as Sreepathy, who has recently retired from his job, is trying out painting for the first time. The family lives in Urakam, a village wedged between Thrissur and Irinjalakuda in Kerala. It is here that Sreepathy’s father, Rajagopala Warrier, once again began painting, when he was in his 80s, after a gap.

“It was not a big gap. My father painted till he was about 75, and then suddenly announced he wouldn’t do portraits for others anymore. But a few years later, when he was in his 80s, he began painting again – but only whatever he felt like painting, not commissioned art,” Sreepathy says. The 92-year-old’s paintings have attracted some attention, since he is so active at his age.

A village scene depicted by Rajagopala Warrier

Rajagopala Warrier is a little hard of hearing, and so, could not attend the call. He sticks to his routine, disciplined like an army man – food on time, yoga for an hour, and proper sleep. “He paints from half past nine in the morning till noon. The paintings can depict stories from the puranas, poets he likes (some of these are the images Google throws up on searching for the poets), works of poets or scenery. But his purana characters are not the typical depictions you see in paintings. He paints the deity Rama with a beard, which even lord Shiva has,” Sreepathy says.

Poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, painted by Rajagopala Warrier

Unnayi Variyar, painted by Rajagopala Warrier

Rajagopala had once been a mathematics teacher in Pala, teaching various schools under the Pala Diocese. As a 20-year-old, he began learning painting from illustrator and artist GK Warrier, who was a renowned painter of the time, having worked with the Travancore royal family and on the Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur. Rajagopala would later marry GK Warrier’s daughter.

Depiction of Vyloppilly's poem 'Innu Njan Naale Nee' by Rajagopala Warrier

“The first portrait my father painted as a trained artist was of Kumaranalloor Karthyayani, the deity of the Kumaranalloor Bhagavathy temple in Kottayam. He has always worked on oil paintings, never watercolors. I remember him being commissioned for a lot of oil paintings in my childhood. Among these were really large paintings of four to six feet high. There was one of NM Thomas, former principal of the Pala St Thomas College, which was several feet high. Another I remember distinctly is his painting of the three forms of god – Brahma, Vishnu and Siva – in a single canvas. He also won (Kerala Sangeetha Nataka) Akademi awards a couple of times,” Sreepathy says.

Lord Shiva, painted by Rajagopala Warrier

There were also several paintings he did for Pala Diocese, including a picture of Jesus Christ on the lap of mother Mary.

Jesus Christ on the lap of Mother Mary, painted by Rajagopala Warrier

For more than 25 years now, Rajagopala has been living in Thrissur, away from his hometown of Pala. After taking a break for a few years – during which he tried his hand at sculpting with clay – Rajagopala went back to painting again, a love he could not leave behind. Now he takes pride in guiding Sreepathy through his first steps in portrait painting. Sreepathy has already painted portraits of his mother and his grandfather, GK Warrier, Rajagopala’s mentor.

Watch: Rajagopala Warrier on his paintings

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