The root of all art

The year was 1982. Dawn had just broken across Chennai; the sky was tinctured with burnt sienna, the colour of the baked earth below, remembers artist Laxma Goud, who was then in the city to create a mural for Grindlays bank. That was when he saw her: a woman rising from the earth, balancing a load of clay on her head and drenched in sweat.

“She looked like a sculpture silhouetted against the morning sun, a Chola bronze Parvathi. Her skin was dark and shiny, her limbs were perfect, she moved with easy grace,” says Goud, adding with a chuckle. “I have great admiration for the female form.”

The female form does inhabit much of his work: voluptuous, earthy, sensual and often accompanied by the goat, a symbol of both phallicism and bucolicism. “People say that I am obsessed with the erotic. So? What is so vulgar about it? Don’t we worship beautiful, female deities?” smiles Goud, who is in the city with an exhibition of his paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures created over 60 years, titled ‘An Inner Retrospective’.

While the erotic is indeed a recurrent theme, what is perhaps more striking is his sense of identity. The rustic is not just captured in his work, it is celebrated. “Art has to go back to its roots, otherwise it will never attract you,” he says. He evokes the metaphor of a tree here, and remarks, “Because I held onto my roots, it took the shape of a trunk and branched out. I am much stronger because of that.”

He pooh-poohs the notion that art and craft are two separate entities; one hinged on skill and legacy, the other a creative expression of thoughts, emotions and experiences. Referring to the Bauhaus art school in Germany that tried to peel off the line between artisanism and creativity, he says, “I have always believed that a potter is an artist, a carpenter is an artist, a barber is an artist. How can we forget our trades? By going to an art school and studying for four-five years, we have not become supreme beings.”

The artist awakens

K Laxma Goud was born in 1940 in Nizampur, 60-70 kms from Hyderabad, presently in Telangana district, to an agrarian family. “We were five brothers and my father worked in the Revenue Department,” he says. It was a small village, with only a primary school, while “for high school we had to come down to the district,” says Goud, but “it was alive.”

The village didn’t just raise a child, it created an artist. Those early years were a great influence on his work, he says, sharing fond memories of the bhagotham or street theatre that offered a vibrant, music-and-movement-punctuated presentation of the epics. “When you have a fertile imagination, you appreciate all these things. To begin with, it is nothing but curiosity. And then that very curiosity leads to the finding of oneself,” he says.

His family probably didn’t understand his art completely, he says, but they were always supportive.

“My father was thrilled that I could draw. It was because of him that I went to art school,” says Goud, confessing to drawing on walls at school.

He went on to complete a Diploma in Drawing and Painting from the Government College of Fine Arts, Hyderabad, before moving to Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

It was here that he met his mentor, KG Subramanyan, one of the leading contemporary artists of post-Independent India.

It was Subramanyan who found promise in the young Goud, recognising his draughtsmanship, encouraging him to explore drawing, instead of emulating the colourful paintings of his contemporaries.

“‘Who told you that only colourful paintings make you an artist?’, he told me,” recalls Goud. “Whatever little intellect and thinking I have, comes from him.”

The Midas touch

“Art is not big because it has money. It is because it is original, and after the artist, there is nothing,” says Goud. And while art doesn’t change society, it widens its vision and contributes to the idea of change.

As with any artist, the long road between being and becoming was strewn with hardship, sacrifice, loss. “I was born when progressive painters were established, but they were also struggling,” he says, adding that understanding his identity, medium and language of expression was a long-drawn-out process.

Not everyone appreciated it. The initial years were hard: galleries rejected him and people didn’t want to accept his work even as a gift, recalls Goud, who also later set up the Sarojini Naidu School of Performing Arts, Fine Arts and Communication (he retired as Dean in 2001).

“There was this woman who came to my show in Hyderabad, walked patiently around the gallery, and then told my best friend that I should be sent to an asylum,” he grins.

He takes it in his stride, pointing out that despite the initial flak, he fought the good fight and succeeded. From sculpture to painting to etching to printing, he has embraced a variety of techniques and mediums, evolving far beyond the sensual artwork he initially made his mark in.

“It happens to every artist: you have to change. My curiosity has branched out and made me very competent. I have the Midas touch now; everything becomes gold,” he says.

An Inner Retrospective will be held from November 16-21 at the Lalit Kala Akademi between Noon and 8 pm.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 10:16:46 PM |

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