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Portrait of an artist

K.T. Shiva Prasad's life is as dramatic as his canvases. You can hear more about it in an interactive session with the artist on Saturday

Veeraswamy Mesthri, one of Shivaprasad's works

THOSE WHO have known K.T. Shiva Prasad for years will vouch for it: that his rather unassuming demeanour and lifestyle hide a sensitive artist and a compassionate human being. His friends and associates will also tell you that he has led a life of extraordinary conflicts and astonishing paradoxes.

For starters, Shiva deliberately turned his back to a comfortable and well-protected life, which would have been his for the asking. Next, when an engineering course was offered to him on a platter, he literally ran away to Bombay in search of those elusive lines and tantalising colours.

His stay at J.J. School of Art also came perilously close to a screeching halt, but he miraculously survived to complete the five-year diploma in seven years. His stay in Bombay, however, opened his eyes to a brave new world — dramatically different from the picturesque Malnad where he had spent his early years.

His return to Hassan and resettlement as an agriculturist-cum-artist took another dramatic turn, thanks to a chance meeting with the late Prof. M.D. Nanjunda Swamy, the charismatic farmers' leader and the founder of the Karantaka Rajya Raitha Sangha. From then on, Shiva involved himself with the farmers' movements, and later, with the Dalit movement too. V.G. Andani, a well-known artist and art-educator, writes: "Even with all his intense involvement with socio-political struggles and movements, Shiva Prasad did not allow the real artist in him to be swept away."

Art Collector Harish Padmanabha says: "Shiva Prasad is a thinking artist. He is shy, unsociable, not market-savvy, or pushy. His powerful images do not glamorise poverty or suffering. All these make his works a delight to collect. He identifies with his subjects totally and feels for them — whether it is a tea vendor, barber, or petty shop keeper."

"The rustic portraits of Shiva Prasad," writes well-known art critic Martha Jakimovicz, "are about individual people, not types. They are about love and affirmation of living — found not through beautification, stylisation or an ideology, but through grasping the basic qualities of the people as they are seen in their own habitat."

Babu Eshwar Prasad, a young but well-known artist, admires Shiva Prasad for his down-to-earth attitude, good sense, and innovative approaches. "I was one of the 10 artists who participated in a 10-day workshop curated by Shiva Prasad, a couple of years ago. We were all taken to a village in Mandya district and the project was to paint on bullock carts. I cannot forget the marvellous experience we had. Although the villagers seemed sceptical in the beginning, slowly they warmed up to the idea and the whole event later became a wonderful community programme.

We were amazed by their reactions, the type of questions they asked, and comments they made. At the end of the workshop, the painted carts were driven in a procession throughout the village and a festive mood prevailed. All of us realised the uniqueness and novelty of the whole exercise, thanks to Shiva Prasad's foresight. Recently, I went back to the same village and was pleasantly surprised that the villagers still remembered the workshop. What is more, these carts are still maintained very well by them."

D.K. Chowta, Secretary, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, calls Shiva Prasad "a mad genius". "No sane person could have the guts and gumption to venture into all those areas which Shiva has entered," he says. "He is a born fighter and a genuinely concerned human being. He is perhaps the only artist in the State who has used the folk motif in such an innovative manner and balanced it with contemporary sensibility. One has to look at the remarkable site-specific work he has done in memory of Kuvempu to understand the depth, dimension, and brilliance of his vision."

So, how did that little boy who failed in his very first middle-school drawing exam rise to become a big name in the national art scene? What is the source all that of pluck and creativity that lights up the eyes and life of Nasim, Borayya, Kencha, Kariyappa, Viraswamy, Sakamma, Maramma and a hundred others who have made his vast canvas their home? What would have been his life story, had the chance meeting with Professor Nanjundaswamy not occurred while waiting for a bus in 1976? What was the expression on the judge's face when Shiva emphatically agreed to tell the truth and only the truth, but in the same breath, stubbornly refused to touch the holy book because he did not believe in it? What are the prompters that have lead this "devout" atheist to become a Buddhist?

K.T. Shiva Prasad is enigmatic. But for those who want to find some clues to those questions and probe the his interior landscape, an opportunity is on hand at 10 a.m. on June 12 (Saturday) at the Chitrakala Parishat, when the artist would engage in an interaction the audience. This is part of the half-day programme when a special issue of the four-monthly, Abhinava,dedicated entirely to Shiva Prasad, will be released. Well-known educator, Dr. G. Ramakrishna, will speak on Buddhism before the book release.


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