Elayaraja was renowned for his realistic paintings of Dravidian women.

Elayaraja posing in front of his paintings
news Death Tuesday, June 08, 2021 - 16:18

Celebrated artist S Elayaraja, who was well known for his realistic paintings of south Indian women, died of COVID-19 complications at a private Chennai hospital on Monday, June 7. He was 43 years old. In his illustrious career, he won several state and national awards. Elayaraja shot to fame with his realistic paintings, many of which depicted his female dravidian subjects going about their daily chores. 

Born in April 1979 in Sembiyavarambal village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district, the artist was the youngest of eleven siblings— five brothers and five sisters. In many interviews, he has said that he derived inspiration for his art from the large joint family that he grew up in. In an interview, one of his sisters-in-law says that the young artist had grown up around women at home, which made it possible for him to understand their needs and emotions. His elder siblings used to go out to make a living.

As a child, Elayaraja Swaminathan taught himself how to paint. In one of his interviews, the artist says that being the son of a carpenter, he would always watch his father carve out cart wheels and that he had lots of time to learn how to draw cart wheels using the free hand method. He later moved to drawing and painting people, starting with TV anchors Nijanthan and Sunderrajan who were popular back in the day on Doordarshan. He also drew gods and deities. 

From an early age, Elayaraja was interested in portraiture and his talent was identified by his art teachers at the Town Higher Secondary School in Kumbakonam, where he studied. He pursued fine arts with a bachelor's degree from the Government College of Arts and Crafts in Kumbakonam and later a master’s degree from the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai. 

Elayaraja’s paintings were often mistaken to be photographs. Speaking about the artist, painter and Elayaraja’s early mentor Sivabalan says that the artist was able to break away from the art silos and bring his art to the common people. His artwork gained international recognition when Elayaraja went to the USA as part of a college trip with his professors and classmates, where his work became the talk of the town. 

His talent won him a state award, a fellowship from the Lalit Kala Akademi and opportunities to participate in many international art exhibitions. He has also acted and assisted actor-director R Parthiban in the Tamil film Ivan which released in 2002.

Before Elayaraja gained recognition for his paintings, his art would be used by many people without his permission. In an obituary carried by Vikatan, a Tamil magazine in which Elayaraja's paintings would regularly feature, the writer notes how the artist confessed to him that it was the first time someone was calling to ask for his permission before using his art. Since then, Elayaraja's paintings would be a regular feature in their magazines, used along with stories and poems. 

Several prominent personalities from Tamil Nadu, including Chief Minister MK Stalin, filmmakers Pa Rajith and Chimbu Devan, among others, mourned the 43-year-old’s untimely demise. 

Elayaraja is survived by his wife and two children.