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Shibu Natesan

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1966, Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Lives and works between Trivandrum and London

Shibu Nateshan has been able to create his own niche in contemporary Indian art. He has developed his own individual style of painting, a kind of critical engagement with realistic genre which never surpasses the painterly boundaries and brings out contemporary issue, events and figures with a sense of metaphor and sarcasm.



M.A (Printmaking), Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda, Vadodara, India 


B.F.A (Painting), College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum, Kerala, India

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The interplay of real and magic realism

Realism plays an intrinsic part of Shibu Natesan's visual language. But realism was a tool through which he juxtaposed different realities together. The way realism was handled by Natesan was individual in terms of application and implication of both form and content. Natesan's paintings come out of his own surrounding space, through the interaction and understanding of the time and space in which he is living in. He uses newspaper clippings and photographs as his reference point yet he goes into a different sphere where, he juxtaposes elements which are contradictory to the other ones, hence creating a subtle conversation between the real and the magic real where he seeks his inspiration from Latin American writer like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A painting such as Each One Teach One is one of several works where he interplays with real and magic real. The painting depicts a boxer, up to his ankles in water, sparring with a herd of zebra. Simple, yet strongly expressing a sense of power conflict through its flawless rendition, the painting has the quality of a collaged photograph. Many of Natesan’s works explore themes of social and political contradiction, as well as symbols of power.

Shibu Natesan, Each one teach one, 2005, oil on canvas, 6 x 8 ft

A sense of Subtle Sarcasm

One of the important elements of Shibu Natesan’s works is the subtlety of sarcasm that he creates in his painting. It reflects his response towards his own immediate socio-political milieu. It is not only in the juxtaposition of the real and unreal or magic real but also in the plastic character of the rendition that Natesan does, where though being photorealistic it never succeeds limits of painterly language as well creates a space which is plastic in character that brings out the exhaustive and mechanical nature of the society and human. A painting such as External Affairs culminates his thoughts about the law and order and how power plays its role, where six army men stand attentively as their horses graze, the contrast between the animal and the human implicates that how order works and how power is maintained through the implication of order in the society where an animal and human are having the same position, a human dominates an animal and another human dominates him. There is complex yet subtle play of power that Shibu addresses again and again in his works.

Shibu Natesan, External Affairs IV, 2008, oil on canvas, 10 x 11 ¾ inches

Photorealism as a tool to bring out the reality

Photorealism has been a popular genre in western art scene for quite a long time and has been exhaustively explored but Shibu Natesan approached photorealism in a different way. His subject comes out from newspaper or magazine photographs or even by his own personal photographs as he says, “when I went to art school I stopped practicing it. What happened was that in 1996, I was offered a two-year residency in the Netherlands. The only way I could connect with India was through photographs, so I started using them again, which carried on. Then, the world became global. Every day now we are engrossed with images, even more than reality we see virtual images”. He juxtaposes those images with his own intervention which involves his perspective on the social and political situation of present time where he often plays with subtle pun and wit that enhances the intricacies of the paintings. For instance the work State of Emergency brings out the horror of military order where common public are being subjected in order to control terrorism or such attack on the nation state. The images clearly resembles that of newspaper photographs which Natesan depicts in a dramatic manner yet in way that is critical towards the law and order of the nation.

Shibu Natesan, State of Emergency, 2003, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 95.5"

Using Oil paint as the tool for expression

Shibu Natesan is one of the few artists in contemporary India art who prefer oil painting as the most flexible and expressive medium and have consistently been working with it for almost three decades. As he uses oil in the most vibrant and exuberant way which helps him to create the reality or the contradiction of reality and magic realism in its finest possible way.“I’m somebody who paints only in oil on canvas. I don’t use acrylic. I find it not interesting at all. The best paintings in the world have been done with oil on canvas. You have to be a master to do it. Once you experience oil on canvas you can never leave it.” Natesan explains his relation with oil and how he is accustomed with it as a medium. Oil also helps him create what he wants to create and also gives him the chance to keep the painterly quality intact within photo realistic genre.

Shibu Natesan, Existence of instinct- I, 2004, oil on canvas, 72 x 96"