It is quite easy to lose track of time while scrolling through Alamelu Annhamalai’s Instagram profile. There’s a riot of colours, some monochrome line drawings and time-lapse videos with great music. The 24-year-old artist has her way with brushes, colours, and pens, and works with almost all kinds of visual mediums — from walls to a small piece of wood.
Alamelu, an independent visual artist from Chennai, recently gained attention for a feat that’s usually associated with famous people like Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci. Okay, we’ll give you another clue. There’s a scene in Rajinikanth’s Shivaji the Boss that made this talent look even more cooler.
Guess it yet? Alamelu was recently featured by Instagram on their Weekend Hashtag Project, #WHPshowoff, in which her video of ambidextrous line-drawing grabbed everyone’s attention. The video has gained over 6.5 million views so far.
But, Alamelu did not expect this video to go viral when she worked on it at home. In fact, she began illustrating with both hands on a whim. “I’m not ambidextrous at all!” she explains. Swamped with work the past month, Alamelu decided to take a break and try something different. “I did wonder how easier it would be if only I could use both my hands. That’s how it began,” she laughs.
On March 23, she uploaded her first video - a simple, single-line drawing of a face. How did she pull that off being a novice you ask? Alamelu shares that she instructed her left hand to mimic her right hand. Sounds easier than done.
It was also by chance that Instagram announced #WHPShowoff hashtag that weekend. “It perfectly fit what I was doing. I submitted my entry and actually did not expect them to get back. There were about 4000 submissions for this hashtag alone.” So when her video was featured on Instagram, Alamelu was quite taken aback.
“As an artist, you’re trying very hard to figure out many things and so positive feedback is always very gratifying. I feel very encouraged by this whole thing,” says Alamelu.
She graduated in Visual Arts from Stella Maris with a specialisation in painting in 2015. Since then, she has been dabbling with all kinds of visual art and working with architects and interior designers, in addition to taking up commissioned projects. Alamelu also has her independent line of work going on. In October 2017 she had her solo exhibit, ‘A Soldier of Hope’, at the Lalit Kala Academy.
Her style of art is very mutable. There’s acrylic on canvas, mural on walls, pen on paper and woodcut prints. “When you can keep experimenting with various forms, why restrict yourself?” she asks.
While Alamelu shares that her greatest challenge lies in reaching out to the right kind of people who understand and appreciate her work, she also feels that the struggle has been the same for artists all over the world, irrespective of the period they belong to. “Although with technology, we’ve been able to gain a better pedestal for our work now, we can still draw parallels with what an artist might have gone through centuries ago to the challenges I face today. Overall, it has remained the same,” she says.
Alamelu also feels that art should be made a part of education in India. “In our school system, art is given the least importance. I have conducted art therapy classes for children and this has been an internal journey for me as well. I’ve seen them improve over the period of the course both academically and psychologically. I’ve had parents tell me that the child sits down to learn and concentrates better on his/her studies. On one hand, while it has been beneficial to them, on the other hand, I’ve been able to observe a lot from these children. I have always loved to study people, their behaviour and the complexities of human nature,” explains Alamelu.
Left: Part of a series done on the pages of Paul Campbell's 'The art of remaking men' Right: Oil copy of Ravi Varma's self-portrait
While art in itself is considered therapeutic, what does an artist do to gain inspiration? For Alamelu, it lies in music and books. “I love reading biographies. I gain a lot of insight into the artists’ world. In Michelangelo’s biography, The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, there’s a passage that reads:
‘When I am finished with a day of work I am a husk. Everything that was inside of me is now inside the marble or the fresco. That is why I have nothing to give elsewhere.
Not even when it is to your best interest?
My best interest can only be my best work. Everything else passes.’
This passage is very close to my heart. I take a lot out of it,” she says.
On a typical day, Alamelu begins her work with music. “Music is my therapy. I need music to work,” she explains. So what’s on her current playlist? “Bon Iver, Novo Amor, Kaleo, Kodaline, Bastille, Imagine Dragons, George Ezra, We Were Evergreen, Roo Panes, Bear's Den, Passenger, José González. You sure you want to know the entire list?” she laughs.
When she feels swamped, she goes back to the basics. “I pick up a pen and start drawing. Simple line-drawings are ways in which I unwind. There’s no pressure to meet someone’s expectations here. I feel my best work comes out when I’m actually unwinding,” she laughs.