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The Double Life of Aji V.N.'s Art

Aji V.N., "Untitled" (2023), dry pastel and charcoal on paper, 11.8 x 8.2 in / 30 x 21 cm 

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India — Thiruvananthapuram, where the artist Aji V.N. lives and works, is the capital of Kerala, a state on the southwest coast of India. The artist, born in 1968, speaks Malayalam, the local language, as well as Dutch, as he lived in the Netherlands for more than 20 years, and English. After graduating from the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram, he received his MFA from the College of Art in Delhi, where he studied painting. He described his education as traditional, with a focus on Western oil painting. Later, he moved to Baroda, which has a thriving artists’ community, before returning to Thiruvananthapuram to teach. During this time, he met his future wife, the Dutch artist Juul Kraijer, and in 2001, after they had married, he moved to Rotterdam to be with Kraijer, who would not live in India. They had a daughter, Uma, who is now 12. In 2020, after living in the Netherlands for two decades, he and his wife divorced and he returned to Trivandrum.  

Aji’s bifurcated practice reflects his experience of living and working in two different worlds, as well as his profound interest in tradition Western processes, such as charcoal drawing and oil painting, and in materiality: the unique qualities of charcoal, pastel, and oil paint. This division became clear to me as we sat in his studio, looking through drawings he had done when he was in the Netherlands (to which he periodically returns to see Uma) and the paintings on his studio walls, which he made in Thiruvananthapuram. They differ in subject matter and materiality, though both convey his preoccupation with tonality.

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