SG Vasudev looks back on a lifetime of Art

Life shines through in each work of artist Vasudev, whose show Inner Resonance: A return to Sama, comes to Chennai

We are at the gallery at Cholamandal Artist Village near a banyan tree — in a sense, the place where it all began for artists of the Madras Movement in 1966. There’s the sea to the East, the busy ECR along the compound’s edge, once a mud road venturing into wilderness.

“The soil still smells of art,” says pioneer artist SG Vasudev. At 77, his greatest retrospective of 400 works, opened in Bengaluru’s NGMA last year. Inner Resonance: A return to Sama is now in Chennai with nine overarching themes, split across three venues, a fabulous demonstration of craft, material and technical virtuosity coming together through an artist’s eye.

At Cholamandal, luminous canvases, brilliant reliefs on copper, and silk tapestries meet my eyes. Engulfed in vibrant colours and textures, suddenly to my right near the gallery entrance, a small definitive line drawing makes its searing presence. It penetrates through my senses like a door opening a great universe. This is Vasudev’s line, which he describes, “It is everywhere. In my tapestry, in my metalwork, painting and drawing.”

SG Vasudev looks back on a lifetime of Art

Art is life

The veteran artist’s open embrace of life is evident. His canvases shine with grace in a gamut of earthy tones, mossy greens and muddy browns. Through mocha swirls, buttery scoops and tangles of ochre-gold tresses, a woman’s profile appears. This is She, his recurrent exploration of the female image. Going closer, many mini faces appear, as we imagine patterns in clouds. Vasudev’s alluring art entices us to discover secrets within its depths. All we see of one tapestry from afar are the parallel ridges of a coconut tree trunk. And then, I spy the blue monkeys all over. He laughs, “That’s because monkeys are always dancing from one branch to another!” All this is bound by his constant line. Famous for his doodles in his early years, he later made the symbol for theatre persona Arundhati Nag’s Ranga Shankara, still in use.

SG Vasudev looks back on a lifetime of Art

His most familiar and loved theme is the Vriksha, which some saw as the Tree of Life. Inspired by Kannada poet Bendre’s Kalpa Vriksha Brindavan in 1967, Vasudev developed it continually. By 1973 the Tree had become central to his work. It helped him advance, offering many possibilities technically. Simultaneously, he discovered how collaboration was key to fulfilling work. Right from his days at the College of Arts, artisans and artists had worked together. “It’s the Westerners who separate arts and crafts,” says Vasudev, comparing the beauty of Bastar art to a Giacometti. But then again, it was a trip to Paris in 1981, which sealed his conviction. He saw a stained-glass window of Chagall’s being executed by his master craftsman who had worked with him for 40 years, making every piece.

In Bengaluru, Vasudev found his master weaver from Andhra who would weave his tapestries from painting for 22 years. He is meticulous, dyeing the yarn for tapestry to match the colours of the painting. With a nod to K Subbarayulu, Vasu says, “This is true collaboration!”

Between Chennai and Bengaluru

“I belong to Chennai as much as I belong to Bengaluru,” says Vasudev, who relocated to Bengaluru from Cholamandal, after the passing of his wife and artistic partner Arnawaz in 1988. Born in Mysore, this was his home State and Kannada was important to him. Bengaluru’s was succour for Vasudev’s mind. He says, “I love literature, music, theatre and dance.” His contact with poet AK Ramanujam since 1963, and theatre personality Girish Karnad right from his Cholamandal days had always lit sparks leading to animated poetry, book jacket designs and exploration of painting on stage. Now, his 1992 marriage to Ammu Joseph, feminist and activist journalist, made him revisit art through an activist lens.

On-stage magic

SG Vasudev looks back on a lifetime of Art

In 1969, for UR Anantha Murthy’s film Samskara, Vasudev made his début as art director. The stage manifests in his Theatre of Life series, as Vasu says, “We all wear masks. To know you, I have to peel off three or four layers. All this is part of the theatre of life.” How about painting? How do we find it’s true meaning? Visiting Indologist, Ernst Koelnsperger, who conducted art tours to India, became fascinated with Vasudev’s work, finding an enthralling connect to German painters Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. He was seeing through the lens of his experience. There will always be interpretations says Vasudev, who aims to walk the razor’s edge, destroying his paintings that do not work. He concludes, “Truth is said only once. That is when you paint.”

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 9:38:28 PM |

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