A bureaucrats passion for painting

New Delhi: She may have been a hardnosed bureaucrat for close to four decades going through the stress of work in key positions but the artist in Sudha Pillai, an IAS officer, has always remained alive, drawing landscapes, faces of women and much more.

The painter in Pillai, an outstanding IAS officer and the member-Secretary of Planning Commission with the rank of union minister, came out in full bloom at an exhibition of her work now on at an art gallery here.

The exhibition, featuring 37 of her paintings evocatively brings out in beautiful colours the subjects of Pillai – "Mumbai at 7am," "Autumn In the Black Forest," "The Advent of Spring-Geneva," "Paris by Night" or "Blushing Maidens" among others.

An overwhelming majority of her works are on ceramic tiles?26 of them to be precise but one can also see Pillai`s mastery of paper media, synthetic fabric and Pune silk, khadi shawl and rice paper and canvass to express her skills.

What instantly attracts the viewers is the restrained use of colour in the paintings highly evocative but not garish and just the way one would want to seek.

Sudha Pillai`s paintings of women in "Mother and Daughter" and "Blushing Women" ? drew appreciation from French Ambassador to India Jerome Bonafont who said at the inauguration of the exhibition here recently that "most of the faces of her paintings are of women, very serene faces".

Speaking later, the painter agreed with Bonafont`s view.

Like many others present at the inauguration, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was surprised by the artistic side of a seasoned bureaucrat. And all agreed with Dikshit when she said Pillai`s "paintings are reflective of life and nature".

Kapila Vatsyayan, eminent scholar of arts, says "I`m deeply moved by the spirit of Sudha Pillai`s works and her command over different mediums of paintings. "This speaks a lot of her artistic skill", Vatsyayan adds.

According to Pillai, she has chosen that are of direct concern and relevance to her. "My paintings celebrate life in its infinite manifestations and in creation and creativity".

Pillai believes "painting has to be distilled through a lot of motifs. It cannot be direct, otherwise it becomes propaganda. There should be certain amount of ambiguity in it?".

How does Pillai, the 1972 Kerala cadre IAS officer, manage to find time for painting after fulfilling her role of a senior bureaucrat? Well, she does her creative work mostly at night after the stress of a busy day in office, says her husband and Union Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, also an officer of the same batch.

Painting, Sudha Pillai says, helps her to keep calm and focused after a stressful day in office. "I paint to unwind myself".

A masters in Psychology from Panjab University and in Public Administration from Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Sudha Pillai, a Punjabi, married her batch mate from Kerala.

Painting has been the passion of Sudha Pillai from her early age and has remained so even when she chose civil service as her profession and thereafter served in different capacities.

According to the painter, "painting reaches deep into the psyche?even subliminal thoughts one may not be aware of find ready expression with a brush. When I start painting, I do not have anything in mind. The painting takes shape as I draw".

Jerome Bonafone described Sudha Pillai as a "civil servant with a heart". One can add to that by saying "a creative heart".

It is not only the artist in Sudha Pillai that came through the paintings but also the green activist in her.

One third of the sale proceeds of the exhibits, which will be on display at the Art Gallery, Paharpur Business Centre (PBC) in Nehru Place here till April 10, will go to former US Vice President Al Gore`s "The Climate Project?India" for supporting Delhi government`s initiative in taking the climate message to 5,000 schools in the national capital covering one million students in the next few months.