K. N. Narayana Murthy: A Retrospective | Chitrakala Parishad, Bangalore, India, November 2019

A large retrospective exhibition of K. N. Narayana Murthy’s (aka MaNaNi) work was held at the visual art complex Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore, India, in November 2019. “Maayamaya”, the title of the retrospective show encompassing almost 60 years of K. N. Narayana Murthy’s work, means “full of illusions”. This is an apt designation, as Naryana Murthy created a veritable unfolding universe of illusory images with his symmetric blot paintings that developed from small and even tiny black and white works on vellum and card sheets in the 1960ies.


Maayamaya exhibition, installation view            © Sindhu Kulkarni

From aimlessly contemplating amorphous patterns creative thinking may arise. This technique was already favored by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century, who recommended gazing at a filthy and smeared wall as a means to reawaken the lost power of one’s own imagination by uncovering hidden images of landscapes, battles, faces, draperies and the like. Throughout history and among all peoples, such inspiration from gazing at random stains was understood as an oracular technique for the revelation of occult realms hidden behind or beneath the superficial everyday reality, whereby allowing insights into a deeper mystical reality inhabited by unseen entities.


Visitor at Maayamaya exhibition            © Sindhu Kulkarni

Already Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), the German physician and poet who studied phenomena of somnambulism and clairvoyance, experimented with symmetrical inkblots in the middle of the 19th century and recognized that the blot pictures bore the “type of long gone times from the childhood of ancient peoples”.

Self-taught artist Narayana Murthy’s early works were reminiscent of his great idol, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922) who used inkblots in his famous projective test. Rorschach’s test is based on the tendency of the human psyche to identify emerging images in random blots. In his artistic work, Narayana Murthy makes use of this propensity of the psyche by creating ever new symmetrical blot-images.


Overview of the development of the early work            © Sindhu Kulkarni   

The exhibition showed the range and evolution of his artistic expression from the monochrome works of the early years to colorful multi-layered works while experimenting with diverse painting mediums and formats.

Besides his blot-pictures, there were also some of his sculptures made of coconut shells at the exhibition that he had executed in the 1970’s and others made of pebble stones, produced in the 1990’s.

The show was well attended also by other artists who expressed their amazement upon seeing the powerful works and their incredulity how they could remain virtually unknown for so many decades.


K. N. Narayana Murthy (aka MaNaNi) enjoying his exhibition            © Sindhu Kulkarni

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