He is unassuming and rooted in the ethos of the Telengana region - a fact that comes across in no uncertain terms in his paintings. The intrinsic purity of colour, form and content is evident in all his work, for, it is replete with the stylised jewel-like figures that beckon you with their inherent beauty and lyricism. The stylisation is a perfect foil to Indian classical dance as the figures seem to virtually dance, as if following their creator in a statuesque movement that is reminiscent of temple friezes, except that they are painted!Alka Raghuvanshi brings together acclaimed artist Thota Vaikuntam with Bharatanatyam danseuse Ananda Shankar Jayant for a Take Two. In Ananda's dance, lines blur into movement and the static melts into action that is pure joy, so sophisticated, yet supremely simple. Vaikuntam: Audiences are cautious about art. At least they want to understand it now. Earlier, artists were not exactly welcomed by society. But now the media hype has made art and artists into something unreachable and complex. Recently, a neighbour came to me saying that I keep reading about you in the papers, so what kind of art should I invest in - real estate or something commercial? I am the same, London or New York doesn't matter!Ananda: Considering there is so much happening at the level of commerce in art, what advice did you give him?Vaikuntam: I said buy only work that appeals to you. You must believe in a work before you buy it! In college, everyone used to copy the European masters. I think the journey of finding your own idiom is what sets an artist apart and makes him or conversely, doesn't make him.Ananda: It is so true of every form of art. It is not merely about finding your own style, it must work for you in every way, so that it becomes inseparable with you. Your figures are replete with clear and strong colours, especially yellow, ochre and deep kumkum red. Any special reason why you prefer these colours?Vaikuntam: I think it must go back to the first time I started painting. I had been presented a box of basic colours. That was what I started using and after the journey of looking for the right colours and trying to mix them, I've returned to the purest form of colours. Also, when I look around, these colours abound and echo in my painting. You too have a very layered approach in your dance - almost like a painting - yet, simple!Ananda: Thanks! It is high praise coming from you! But I think women are genetically programmed to multi-tasking. I try to bring the multi-dimensional experiences into my work. And I think that we as a people have lost our inherent simplicity. We are all in the race to retain our place.Vaikuntam: Absolutely! It is a philosophy few understand. I came from an ordinary family. My father used to run a grocery shop in the village. When he heard of my desire he said, `All these sign board painters buy rations from me on a daily basis. How will you survive?' But my brother supported me and, eventually, I went on annashaan and finally, my father had no option but to agree!Ananda: When I was a student in Kalakshetra in Chennai, the major complaint they used to have was that I laughed too much and read too many James Hadley Chase books! My mother said, `I have no problem. Both will teach you to deal with life!' After all, in the ultimate analysis, the competition is only with yourself.Vaikuntam: Absolutely. If one really thinks, how many real artists are there? Only one in a thousand. When I wanted to go to art college, people asked, `What will you do? Become a sign board painter? Or, at best, you'll end up painting the backdrop curtains of local theatre groups? To tell you honestly, I wasn't too clear myself as to what becoming a painter really entailed! To me, painting a sign board was the highest form of art!Ananda: Mine was the opposite. I wanted to do so many things at the same time! I still do! But in my case the gestation period is so long, like an elephant! So there is space for everything. Vaikuntam: I am accused of repetition. But how do you explain that there is change every moment? It is a continuous process, you have to understand the nuances.