Shivanand Basavanthappa's journey into the world of art is as figurative as his works, finds Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed
Shivanand Basavanthappa's story begins, like all our stories do if we really start at the beginning, with his mother. “She is a folk song singer, which sort of first attracted me toward the arts,” he says with a glint of nostalgia twinkling in his eyes. Basavanthappa was telling me about his childhood and his early, raw temptation to art. All tales that are worth telling usually have ordinary beginnings.
Basavanthappa's tale also has a simple start. It begins in a small town called Sindanoor in Raichur district. His journey culminates in the starry art world of international art galleries and a prestigious art award from the Central Lalitkala Akademi in 2009 but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
The leafy, open environs of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), where Basavanthappa currently works as Exhibition Officer, provide the relaxed atmosphere for a leisurely telling of self-indulgent tales. It is an oasis providing a break from the frenzy of Bangalore. The aroma of high art — from the paintings displayed in the galleries — wafts over the pond which reflects both wings of the NGMA — the old colonial bungalow and the newer modern building. An old, majestic banyan tree helps in anchoring the serenity of the garden more firmly. In this pleasant scene, Basavanthappa's excitingly bright red kurta marks him out from some distance as he beckons to me.
Before the interview I had a chance to look at some of his paintings which, he told me, were sold all over the country almost immediately. He is clearly a figurative artist and his colourful palette does not dwell in the abstractness of modern and contemporary art. A series of his works of acrylic on canvas between 2007 and 2010 show a straightforward engagement with his themes and a commitment to his conscience. The engagement with an urban modernity has not been easy for him and this is evident in some of his works like “Wealth” (2010). Gunny sacks signify degrees of wealth so the poor farmer with his single gunny bag works with his head bowed; a second, wealthier person lies languorously on a pile of gunny bags; while the third, whose pile is larger, has grown a set of evil horns and is jumping around signifying great mischief.
Other works like “Eaters” (2008), “Work is Worship” (2008) and “Farmer” (2010) also get their inspiration from our unjust society. “Near My School” (2007) will evoke memories of a village school and Basavanthappa might have gone to a school like this. As a child, he says, his life was hard. “I do not come from a rich family and I often helped my parents in their work,” he added. Studies did not really interest him as he sat on the last bench and drew away on his slate. As the first great educational challenge of a student's life drew near, by which I mean the tenth standard, Basavanthappa promptly took off – first to Raichur, then to Hyderabad and eventually to Vasco in Goa. Hanging out with the fishermen, he spent six months before the 15-year-old's worried parents somehow got wind of his peaceful abode.
The narrative picks up pace from here and the teenager is convinced to return to Sindanoor where he finishes school before he heads off to Dharwad where chance lands him at the local arts college. From there, his restless feet take him to Davangere to an abysmal art institution before he heads off to Delhi where he does art work for a small publisher. He comes to Gulbarga after a few months where he enrols in another art school, finishes his undergraduate degree in fine arts and comes to the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (CKP) in Bangalore where he enrols for his post-graduate degree. He is also married by now to Lakshmi Shivanand. While his talent was clearly evident, his restlessness came from his determination to succeed.
“CKP was intimidating in the beginning as all the classes are held in English but I learnt to cope with the demands of the course. The art world here is also dominated by groups of established artists and it felt quite strange,” he explained. Basavanthappa managed to hold his own and after his time at CKP, his painting began to draw national attention as he was conferred a series of awards.
Suresh Jairam, of 1 Shanti Road and resident patron of young artists, says of Basavanthappa: “He has struggled a great deal and his background speaks about his determination to get where he has. While I am encouraging him to explore different kinds of languages in art, he has not forgotten his sensibility of being a painter at heart.”
Basvanthappa's friendly presence has now become part of the NGMA and if you want to meet him, just head to NGMA.