Binoy Varghese’s Art Apart

- Archana Bahl Sapra         

As I enter Binoy Varghese’s new studio located in the outskirts of Delhi, I encounter the now familiar calm and composed persona, sitting meditatively and possibly also contentedly, surrounded by his recent series of sensitively rendered paintings. The colourful spread of bright paintings of smiling children, innocent faces of women or the rare appearance of a man lurking behind, peeping through thick green foliage and blooming red and pink flowers seem to seduce the viewer to relish the visual delight on offer and also look within and beyond to unfold the narrative. The imagery with its photo-like finish adorns a realistic look over laid with a dreamy montage.   

Binoy is an artist of few words who is adept at expressing his thoughts and concerns through painting. His earlier work included images of saints, churches and other familiar objects as well as self-portraits depicting torment due to violence prevalent in the society. Making a clear departure in his current work which appears more matured and measured, he creates carefully planned compositions in fine imagery though rotating around the same themes. The continuity of thought and basic tenure of the current work is seen to turn more intense and complex in its detailing as his protagonist often a young girl or a child, with an innocent look, smiling and playful, despite having been uprooted from his/her base or home. The accompanying foliage often in the background and occasionally in the foreground helps to soften the blow and make the alien locale appear more acceptable and adaptable. Social issues close to the artist’s heart are some of the fundamental concerns that are recurrently featured in his colourful and picturesque canvases mostly in large format that impart a distinct humane and compassionate oeuvre.

The inspiration and dynamics of his multihued work are derived from photography, cinema and digital media. But the metaphors he uses are the creations of his own mind and not from any resource or library. Indirect references to the surrounding world are retranslated and reframed to speak a different story through his art. Binoy’s ability to draw such a realistic imagery with photo like finish in his drawings and paintings gives his work its distinct look and special appeal. With their wide open eyes, large lips, roundish smiling faces busily engrossed in their own world amidst natural surroundings his people make a strange mix of imagery that has its own charm.  With its trajectory revolving around human concerns and social issues triggered by displacement, migration, rural /urban divide, clash of cultures, gender discrimination and violence, the work seems to engage itself with a longing for peace. The artist makes indirect references to the politics of building lobby and their abject apathy to the work force in today’s new global economy as he laments, “These displaced people are very much needed for the development of the society but the urban population thinks these labor forces from the rural areas are burden to the ever growing population of the metropolitan cities”.

In his ‘Home Transit’ series, the artist attempted to address issues around displacement and homelessness especially in relation to children. Not completely straying away but in a different strand, he continues to confront the society, moving on to highlighting the impact of growing urbanization of our cities and alienation of the rural masses that are forced to migrate to the metros in search of a livelihood moving themselves and their meager belongings from their make-shift base at one construction site to another. The images speak of dislocation, the alienation of the self and the loss contained in unrestrained contemporary urban development as featured in the artist’s latest suite of ten works in acrylic each 6x6 feet large canvas, entitled ‘Multistoreys/ Stories’. The title itself advocates stories of people and their abysmal life in shanty settlements that exist around most multistory complexes under construction. Featuring such people and their life in urban metropolis and dislocation that the growing urbanization brings about for those very people who actually work with their hands to build the city, the artist illustrates the narratives and says “The laborers are forgotten after every multistorey gets it’s name and they become unwanted and displaced again… so their journey continues from one site to another… Nobody cares for them….”as heendeavors to bestow some sort of recognition to the forgotten and nameless individuals. “I am trying to speak for the unspoken people of the storymakers stories”, says the concerned artist as he tries to create and construct a ‘wonderland’ for them within the domain of his paintings. 

Binoy’s photo-realistic renditions stand out for his choice of colours and material and their fine execution. It goes to the artist’s credit that his vibrant palette successfully seeps into the desolate subjects translating them into metaphors of hope rather than loss as they migrate from rough and tough of the building site onto a picturesque and pleasant platform. He paints on paper in water colours and on canvas in acrylic. The habitat that his work embraces especially the lush green plants, wild creepers and blooming flowers; seem to come from his native in Koothattukulum in Kerala, where he was born and where he grew up.  It was only after his diploma in painting from the local art college that Binoy left his home state to take up residencies with some senior artists who took him under their watchful eyes and generous care. The experience he gained of working first at the Cholamandalam artists village in Chennai, then at Kanoria in Ahmedabad followed by the Banff Centre for Arts in Canada and finally in Delhi where he is now settled, has given him a varied exposure and helped him acquire a range of artistic skills that he has refined further with rigorous practice and discipline. This young artist who has had to struggle hard to find a foot hold in the big city is now comfortably located in the contemporary art circuit but continues to keep his roots alive by making frequent soul searching visits to the land of his birth.

The symbolism in Binoy’s work is derived from natural environment, flora and fauna while his aesthetics have a philosophical base. The artist works laboring in meticulous detail to reformulate and represent hard reality of life guised with fantasy in an appealing demure using pigment to play with emotions. In this series his protagonists are often seen in groups perhaps as a sign of their strong bonding or for moral support while his work in the earlier phase featured a single child or a lonesome women. The focus for the artist however continues to be on the dismal state and the dilemma that migrant work force in our big metros face, as he urges the city dwellers to recognize their existence and I conclude with his remark, “They too have the right for a better living and education”.


Archana B Sapra is a Delhi based independent architect, designer and arts consultant. Her career span includes researching and working on architectural, design and art projects and she has designed several buildings and interiors for private homes, show rooms and corporate offices, besides curating art exhibitions and writing for catalogues and reviews for other publications. She co-curated Forms & Figurine, Art for Vision, Keep the Promise, Satrang and Continuum group exhibitions, while her independent curatorial work includes group show Variable Strokes for Chawla Art Gallery, The Eye Within an exhibition resulting from an art camp in Turkey as well as Aspirations, held at the Epicentre and Pravah for gallery Art Pilgrim in Delhi. Archana is the Founding Director of Sakaart an architectural, interiors and arts consultancy that offers advice to galleries and collectors. She also writes on art and is currently working on a couple of group shows. She is on the editorial board of the Creative Mind quarterly magazine.

*          *          *         *