An exhibition showcases veteran artist S.G. Vasudev’s works while his coffee table book offers a glimpse of his life

Nearly five decades ago, S.G. Vasudev began his artistic journey in the city, graduating from the Government College of Fine Arts, and becoming an essential part of the Madras Movement.

Recently, the city hosted a dual celebration of the artist — both an exhibition and the launch of a book on his work and his life. And it has been a special celebration, because though he might live in Bangalore now, for Vasudev, Chennai is where it all started.

“As an artist, my life began in Chennai,” he says. “I studied at the college under K.C.S. Paniker, and later joined him and my colleagues in founding the Cholamandal Artists’ Village. The Madras art movement moulded me.”

A nostalgic trip

Not surprisingly, then, the launch of his coffee table book Vriksha: The Art And Times Of S.G. Vasudev at The Park was an emotional affair. The evening, which also featured the screening of The Open Frame, a documentary on his life by Chetan Shah, was “superb”, he says. “So many of my fellow artists, friends, and admirers were there. I felt so nostalgic!”

The book contains write-ups on Vasudev by cultural critics and commentators, including Girish Karnad, B.V.K. Shastry, Y.N. Krishnamurthy, H.A. Anil Kumar, Sadanand Menon, and a transcript of an in-depth interview of the artist by Latha Mani, not to mention beautiful images of his creations over the years.

“I’ve been thinking about putting together a book on my work for a long time, but began working on it seriously two years ago,” he comments. “I was inspired by books written by art historians and critics, but I also felt that the artist’s own voice should come through.”

Art connoisseurs in the city will have a chance to experience his artistic vision first hand through Theatre Of Life, his on-going exhibition at the Forum Art Gallery (it ends September 30). Featuring his works from 1997 to 2012, the collection is vintage Vasudev, with its rich use of earth tones — golden yellows, greens, burnished browns and reds, gorgeous texturing and subtle use of symbols.

The series of paintings is inspired by the artist’s own connections with the world of theatre, film and literature, and focusses as much on the act of storytelling as it does on the act of viewership. In some, it is the entertainer on the stage or screen who is predominant, in others, it is the members of the crowd, the multitudes in the act of consuming media who stand out.

Appealing motifs

Other works bear traces of his earlier series — the nourishing, life-giving Tree Of Life, the introspective faces and eyes of the Humanscape series, and the vast, undulating green-browns of the Earthscape series. And still others introduce appealing new motifs such as the elephant in a rustic, rigorously textured setting reminiscent of cave art.

“I work on series. I leave one series when it comes to its logical conclusion, and go on to the next,” says Vasudev. “At the same time one can see the connections between them all. After all, I am what I am!”

At 72, the artist has no desire to slow down. Art is his passion, and the inspiration keeps coming. “I have so many ideas and I want to keep working on them,” he says. “There is no end.”