IMAGES, FROM TOP: “Sita” (detail) by K Anandakuttan; “Earth Colors” by K Anandakuttan, an informational museum display on mineral pigments used in ancient fresco secco murals; “Rajendra Moksham”, Anonymous, a large fresco secco mural in Kerala, India, painted centuries ago(photo: enchantingKerala.org); BELOW: “Cueva de las Manos” in Argentina, an example of ancient fresco secco murals painted found across the globe; Ajanta Caves (detail) a World Heritage Site in Maharashtra, India (photo: ASI); below right: studio view, fresco secco painting in progress: “Green Sea Turtles”, K Anandakuttan .
Traditional Fresco Secco
Anonymous painters of the past used tiny brushes to create flowing, repetitive lines and incredible gradations of color– learning how increased my appreciation of their work. Now I bond with them when I paint.
It is important to me that this timeless method not be confused with the more recent Western tradition of buon fresco, in which the lime plaster is painted while wet. The traditional methods of mural painting from ancient cultures around the world have been dubbed fresco secco (a Latin term) by Western scholars.
I studied under a master muralist in India, C.P. Suresh, disciple of Guruvayoor Krishnankutty Nair. I delved into the materials, methods, and inspirations of this ancient traditional art:
The frescoes of Kerala are painted on walls of granite or laterite: a first layer of crude plaster is applied, a mixture of sand and lime, then a second smooth layer. These are the ground which support the 40 layers of white lime wash that follow. A mixture of resin and lime was used as a final bonding coat.
Colors are painstakingly extracted from lamp black, purified laterite earth, and the plant Indigo Ferra, and applied with hand-made brushes of animal hair or pandanus fiber. Each color is applied in a prescribed order, ending with black. Washes of color are carefully built up with a broad wash followed by countless tiny strokes or dots.
Paintings depict inspirational scenes from the Hindu epics, deities, and later, Christian stories. Descriptive Sanskrit slokas (poems) are their basis.
My teacher: C.P. Suresh, disciple of Guruvayoor Krishnankutty Nair
Treatises on painting methods and materials are found in the Puranas and Vedas, and include Dhyana Slokas, Vishnu-Purana-dharmottara, Vatsyayana, and Silparatna.
Exhibits and publications: My painting “Kuchelavrittam,” based on the Malayalam poem “Kuchelavrittam” by Ramapurathu Warrier (1703-1753), was included in the book Murs sacres du Kerala: Peintures murales des temples et palais (French Edition, 1997) by Martine Chemana. A series of my studies on paper were featured in a gallery in France (1996).
Please note that in my current fresco secco work I experiment freely with these methods and materials and explore ecological themes.