Focus S.G. Vasudev speaks about the influences that have shaped his art.
“Art has to have physical involvement with colours, surface, the smell of paint, and finally the hand. Will the computer produce live art?” That in a way summed up not just the subliminal influences in the works of master painter S.G. Vasudev, but the synergies that transmute into his works.
While one sat through the first session with students of the College of Fine Arts Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, the impression that remained was, “Here is a person who was at the right place at the right time.” The Madras School of Arts was the dream destination of every aspiring artist in the Sixties; the environs where D.P. Roychoudhury and K.C.S. Panikkar dreamt differently for Indian art. The reverence for the experience is treasured and has shaped his approach to art and his own evolution as an artist.
Who were the major influences in the early years? It goes without saying that K.C.S. Panikkar's functioning was liberating for anyone who worked with him. “There was no scope for mediocrity. Not a very private person, he'd walk in to the studio any time and watch you work, admire what appealed to him. And, most importantly, compliment us. Once inside the institution, he considered us as artists and not students. We were free to dabble in any activity and the air of informality in the interactions made the whole process very enriching,” remembers Vasudev.
The other major influence was Francis Souza, among the torch bearers of the Progressive Artists' Group in the country. “I greatly admired his works to the extent that I'd even tried to replicate his style in my signature. Over the years the tendency to imitate petered off because he was more inspired by Western Art, but I started seeking a rootedness in my expressions,” says Vasudev.
Vasudev's works can loosely be put into decades where particular themes dominate the canvas – Vriksha, Fantasy, Humanscape, Earthscape and Theatre of Life series. While he is passionate about his art, as an individual, he opens himself to healthy interactions with his contemporaries in the fields of literature, poetry, theatre and music. A major diversion from art was his contribution as art director for two films, ‘Samskara' and ‘Vamsavrikhsha.'
According to Vasudev, the growth of his artistic expression coincided with the coming of major names in the Kannadiga's cultural development– B.V. Karanth, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, poet A.K. Ramanujan, to name a few.
Vasudev remembers his association with Ramanujan's poetry. “My illustrations were responses to the poems and not an explanation of the poem. Responding to his poetry while he recited the poem was a totally new experience for all of us those days.”
A marked influence of the folk and tribal in his works is explained by the artist as: “While at College and later, there was a definite return to our roots that was stressed upon to find a certain ‘locatedness.' Further K.C.S. encouraged us to look into the potential of traditional Indian art and that marks my relying on tribal and folk elements.”
He is a true K.C.S. shishya when he says: “I keep frequenting exhibitions and look for new things in the art whatever be the level of the painter. It becomes a learning experience.”
Market for art
The idealism of a generation groomed by inspired teachers is crystal clear in his opinions regarding a host of issues that cast its shadow on the survival of art and artists in the county. Responding to the question on the growing market for art through the Internet, he says: “Who is to tell the buyer that he is wrong in making a choice. A discerning buyer can only be nurtured in two ways. Art appreciation as a course must figure in the activities of Akademis, and equally important is the need for galleries to go that extra mile to explain the significance of a work and the style of the artist to cultivate a new aesthetics in the buyer.”
Bangalore is a city where concerted efforts by artists have led to frequent interactions with the layman. Seventy artists who gave their works to be put up for auction raised funds to set up Ananya-Drishya, which conducts workshops for children, conducts art appreciation programmes, creates a database library and conducts a ‘Meet the Artist' monthly series. Such an exercise breaks down the barrier between the artist and the layman, says Vasudev. Art without patrons would languish; State support and not patronage is the answer.
Coming back to his art, Vasudev who also works on tapestry and copper finds the collaboration with craftsmen a very novel experience. For his copper works, where he revisits his earlier themes, he has the help of Chandran from Cholamandalam, and for the silk tapestry it is the master craftsman, Subbarayulu. K.C.S. Panikker's suggestion to the young Vasudev when he completed his art education, “Why do we not try to link art to craft?” echoes in the mind when he elaborates on the way his work progresses.