It takes a couple of hours of meticulous hardwork, creativity and precision for artist B. Sanyasi Rao to infuse life into the dead wood. A master at carving images of personalities out of wood, Rao has created several wooden masterpieces over the past decade including Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Albert Einstein and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, among others.
As a child growing up in Tagadampudi village near Anakapalle, Rao would spend his time learning the art of carpentry from his father. Chiselling and working on the medium of wood was something that came naturally to him as he grew up in a family whose main vocation was carpentry. During a visit to his grandfather’s place in K.J. Puram, he saw a wooden portrait of Nehru and Gandhi in conversation at a Panchayat office. That portrait left a deep impression on him, which led him later to explore the world of wooden portraits. Due to his family’s tough financial situation, he had to leave school after class 7 and shifted to Vizag to look for work in carpentry. Many years later, another wooden family portrait at Jagadamba theatre gave him the inspiration to start his artistic journey. Thus began his experiments with the medium of wood.
A carpenter by day and an artist by night, Sanyasi Rao flits between these two roles with effortless ease. While carpentry is a methodical work, he indulges his artistic skills by making wooden portraits. At a time when the demand for portraiture paintings are seeing a decline, the artist says families are showing interest in getting wooden portraits done because of the distinct technique. But it is a tough medium. “Unlike paintings, the margin of error in wooden portraits is zero. Once you make a wrong cut on the wood, the entire facial structure changes. You can’t allow even a little error for portraits of personalities. That is why most wood artists stick to figures of Gods and Goddesses, which is easy to make,” says Rao. He prides in the fact that so far he has not gone wrong with even a single portrait.
His creative excellence was recognised in the year 2013 when he won accolades at the State-level competition conducted by AP State Handicrafts Development Corporation Limited. His work on the wood carved panel depicting the evil of alcohol addiction got him the state award in Wood Carving Craft. Sanyasi Rao was the only craftsman from the district selected for the award. The award winning 28” x 23” panel shows a drunken master of the household with his mother at his feet imploring him to kick the evil habit even as his wife suckles a baby and another daughter, who cowers in a corner. “It takes at least 10 days of work to finish a wooden portrait. But this award winning piece took me a month to complete. I had to take care of the finer details on the carvings to bring out the tragic theme,” says Rao.
The artist had conducted one solo exhibition of his works in 2014 in Vizag. “I received a lot of orders from the city and the neighbouring districts after this,” he adds. He has also presented a wooden portrait of NTR to Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, who appreciated his artistic skills.
Encouraged by the accolades and recognition that his wooden art works fetch, Sanyasi Rao now plans to depict village life in wood carvings. Currently, he is working on a portrait of Chhatrapati Shivaji on a horse for a national competition. He can be reached at 9440330852.