At master painter Thota Vaikuntam’s house in Bhavani Layout on Road No.78, Jubilee Hills, the mood is celebratory. His studio seems like a village with men and women draped in vibrant yards of pancha and saris stand as mute spectators. The rustic landscape of his village Burugupalli, the familiar faces of its people and their lives have been his artistic identity. It is time to get nostalgic and revisit these folk stories as India Fine Art hosts a retrospective of his works spanning four decades in Hyderabad. “The exhibition is special because the artist is Vaikuntam and it is his solo show after many years in Hyderabad,” smiles Manvinder Dawer, owner of India Fine Art. The exhibition is a comprehensive one with 200 works including paintings, panels, drawings and sculptures. He has has also put together a coffee table book titled Bhaavanaatharangam A Retrospective which features paintings that are part of the retrospective.
How it started
For Manvinder, it has been a 15-year association with Vaikuntam. “He was one of the first few people that I had interacted in Hyderabad,” recalls Manvinder. “Laxman (artist Laxman Aelay) introduced me to him and fixed up a time. Vaikuntam invited me home but had said will not give any paintings to me. I went at 8.30 in the morning and left at 6.30 in the evening with 16 paintings in my hand. That was the start of our friendship.”
Artist Vaikuntam is eagerly waiting to look at his yesteryear works. “I feel happy because not many people have seen my old works. This feels like an autobiography,” he smiles and adds, “Many artists lose their works at the start of their career because they are not able to preserve it. I have lost many such works. This is a good opportunity to look at the canvases and understand how the process was.”
The book has been four years in the making. Manvinder contacted the collectors who readily agreed to lend their works. “Since it was getting documented, the collectors knew we were doing a serious work. The aim was to do a comprehensive show and something different. I could have got more works but I took four years to put this together,” he observes.
Vaikuntam observes he felt it was his duty to show his people. “I started my career late and was looking for something new. I saw many Indian artists producing western paintings. There were issues and when I went to my teacher Mani sir (K.G. Subramanyan), he said, ‘I will not think for you; you should think and solve your problem.’ I began to paint my people, their music, customs, attire and lifestyle on canvases,” he says.
Interestingly, Manvinder feels his petname ‘Mani’ has helped him cement his friendship with Vaikuntam. “His teacher is Mani sir and I got lucky because of that,” he laughs.
The retrospective works were first displayed at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in November ’16. “It was the first time in 10 years that the gallery was having a solo show of one artiste. When people saw the works, they asked, “Mani, are you not showing the works in Hyderabad? I love to show them and we decided to bring them here,” he smiles.
The coffee table book is an attempt to bring out personal side of the artist.
“We have light-hearted conversations between Vaikuntam and his three children. The words have not been edited. Artist Suryaprakash is his friend and we have an interview with him. Anand Gadapa has written the preface and I have written a brief note,” points out Manvinder.