Kalamkari expert Jonnalagadda Gurappa Chetty is getting ready to conduct a workshop sponsored by Spic-Macay when we meet him for a conversation. And he is all enthusiasm –– after all, it's going to be a very special class.
A group of special children have been assembled by Vidya Venkat from the Spastics Society of Karnataka. Among these are children with autism, cerebral palsy and different kinds of learning difficulties.
However, they have all been chosen for having a fairly good attention span and hand-coordination, so they can benefit from this art class, explains Vidya.
Gurappa Chetty and his wife reach the venue and begin teaching the students how to paint the cloth given to them with a fine brush and using vegetable dyes. They hover around, helping a child with verbal instructions and handholding another one through the colouring process.
Gurappa is all patience and smiles. After all, this is what he enjoys doing most –– imparting to others the art of pen-painting, which he has been practising to perfection for decades.
Born in 1937 into a traditional family of Kalamkari artists in Srikalahasthi, the famous temple-town of Andhra Pradesh, Gurappa began absorbing the art and its nuances even as a child.
He grew up helping his father produce Kalamkari work and later became a schoolteacher. And, continued to paint in his spare time.
Endowed with a highly developed aesthetic sense and a flair for original design, Gurappa began producing works of beauty in Kalamkari, which attracted the attention of connoisseurs and government authorities.
He earned appreciation for his exquisite interpretations on cloth of episodes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.
A string of awards followed –– national award for best craftsman, Shilpaguru, Rasthriya Samman, Tulasi Samman (Bhopal), and prizes from private organisations.
Gurappa's yeoman service to Kalamkari received further recognition when he was given the coveted Padmashree award –– a rare honour for any traditional craftsman in India.
He has also held workshops and demonstrations across India and abroad.
Talking of these honours, the modest painter says: “Awards are wonderful things, very motivating. But what I enjoy most is teaching. I want to pass on the art of Kalamkari or Addakam as I prefer to call it, to as many of the younger generation as possible.
“In fact, we need to spread awareness of all traditional Indian arts and crafts through a sustained programme of workshops across rural and urban India.”
In this respect, he says the government ought to play a more pro-active role while the efforts of organisations like Spic-Macay need to be emulated by corporates and NGOs.
“Also, there should be due representation for artists on government bodies which formulate policies for arts and crafts.”
In between his painting work, the spiritually inclined Gurappa finds time for writing books on religion and art.
He has authored three Telugu books “Bharata Ratna Mala”, “Bhagavatha Mani Mala”, “Vraatha Pani (Kalamkari)” and is wrapping up a fourth ––“Amuktamaalyada Sthuthi Pushpaalu”. He has also contributed to an English book published by Parampaarik Kaarigaar.