By: K.G. Sreenivas Dated: March 20, 2015
This is the oft-told story of Edmund Thomas Clint. The child artist, who had become a legend in his lifetime, leftbehind a prodigious collection of 25,000 paintings in a little under seven years the time he lived to tell an extraordinary tale. Clint’s work occupied pride of place at the Children’s Biennale...
Six years, 10 months, 26 days old...” M.T. Joseph says his son, the prodigious late genius Edmund Thomas Clint, was when he died.
Joseph is emotional and breaks down one balmy late December morning at the inaugural of the Edward Thomas Clint painting exhibition at Cosmopolitan Cult Gallery in the heart of Mattancherry as he, along with Curator Jitish Kallat and Programme Director Riyas Komu, light the lamp to mark the opening of the Children’s Biennale.
Joseph makes a valiant effort to control his emotions. As he began a series of media interviews, he gathered himself and regained composure to speak at length about Clint, who he had named after Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood.
It was Chinamma, Clint’s mother, who had first noticed his rare talent. They had moved out of their ancestral home to Joseph’s government accommodation in Thevara when Clint was five. The move proved to be fortuitous as the quarters complex had a vast ground area where during playtime Clint’s mother would accompany him. The young boy used to pick up small pebbles and broken pieces of brick. “We never quite understood why he would do that,” says Joseph.
Then one day Clint’s mother saw him drawing something on the floor, but she noticed no impression on the surface! She would soon tell her husband that Clint, who was then crawling on his tummy, was doing something rather curious. “So I gave him a piece of chalk to ‘draw’ with. Clint was indeed drawing ‘something’ which we recognised as ‘circles’,” says Joseph.
The story had just begun. One day, Chinammaespied a fairly large circle and was baffled how her tiny tot could draw such a bigcircle. So she spied on him from the kitchen to figure how he had done it. “Clint’s artistic strategy was simple — he had used his belly as a fulcrum and with outstretched hands held the chalk and propelled himself in a circular motion,” says Joseph in undying wonder.
Did the parents have any conversations about art with their prodigious child?
Clint was apparently never given to speaking to grown-ups and kept to children of his age and was deeply “suspicious about adults”! “He would say, ‘you grown-up people ask us so many silly questions’”, says Joseph, quoting Clint.
Clint had begun to read early on.At the age of two, he drew a chart of Malayalam letters and showed it to his mother. “He wasn’t actually ‘writing’ it, but drawing it,” says Joseph. By age two, he could write and speak Malayalam fluently. By age four, he could read in English. “We used to read aloud stories to him and then we had to read out newspapers as well to him.”
Clint was curious and would often ask his parents about their experiences as children.“My wife used to teach in a college and had to change as many as three buses to get to work. So she would have to tell him her daily experiences as she hopped from bus to bus to work,” Joseph recalls.
Did he ever talk to them about his craft? “No,” says Joseph. “We would ask him what he was doing.”
Joseph draws our attention to the painting of a fight between Krishna and Jaambavaan, the mythical demon. Krishna is striking Jaambavaan with a tree he has pulled out lock, stock, and barrel. “Please observe Jaambavaan trying to fend off the blow while firmly planting his foot on the ground as a pivot. By the age of four, Clint had figured out some of the basics of martial arts — the art of blocking a lethal blow,”Joseph says with ill-concealed amazement. “I asked him about it. So he asks me in amusement if I as a wrestler didn’t know some of my basics.”
What was his last painting?
Clint’s story acquires an even deeper poignancy. Clint was awarded a gold medal andthe family was on their way to Koilandy further north of Kozhikode in northern Kerala. As they drove, they caught sight of a Theyyam performance that Clint spent a minute or two watching from inside the car. The poignancy lies in the trajectory of the Theyyam story.
The State Bank of Travancore had sponsored an exhibition at Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvanathapuram. T.K. Rajeev Kumar, film director, then an employee of the bank was conducting the exhibition. It was Onam. Clint’s theyyam painting, the last one he did, was included in the exhibition. “Rajeev asked me if I knew what type of Theyyam had Clint painted. I had no clue,” Joseph says, his voice becoming slightly shaky.
Rajeev then called in people who were familiar with the art form. A young man in the group, after staring at the painting rather intently, walked away and returned with a bunch of Theyyam veterans. In turn, one of the veterans asked Rajeev if he could meet the painter in question, to which he said he wasn’t “available”. So he wanted to know if they could meet him sometime during the duration of the exhibition. Rajeev replied in the negative.
The next question was, “Is that man alive?” Rajeev asked him why he had asked such a question. “We are Theyyam artistes. This is Muchilottu Bhagavathi Theyyam. While we perform this theyyam, our attire is never complete. In fact, it is never done up fully. And if it is ever, that performer shall die soon. The attire shown in this painting is ‘complete’.”
One afternoon as Clint went to bed for a nap, he told his mother, “Amma, don’t worry if I don’t wake up... know that I am sleeping.”
Clint, eternal child artist, had moved on.
The day was April 15, 1983. Clint, who had been suffering from a kidney ailment for long now, had given up the fight but not before leaving behind a prodigious 25,000 paintings!