Memories of Madras – A sketch of the past

Principal K.C.S. Paniker showing art pieces to associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Potter Stewart and his wife at the Governemnt College of Arts and Crafts. Photo: The Hindu Archives  

I came to live in Madras in 1960, when I joined the Government College of Arts and Crafts.

I grew up in the village of Gudiyattam in Vellore district. My parents wanted me to take up engineering after school, since I was good at maths. But, I'd always loved drawing, and I applied to the Government College of Arts and Crafts without my parents' knowledge. I actually hitched a ride on a lorry from Gudiyattam to Madras for the interview! They let me off at the Salt Cotaurs, and I had to ask around and find my way to the college, after stopping to wash up at the Central Station.

In those days, the interviews for admission would go on for a week. We had to do model studies, portraits and full-body studies, and composition in the afternoons. Finally, they chose 40 students for all three streams put together — painting, sculpture and commercial arts.

K.C.S. Paniker was the principal. The college had a remarkable environment — very active and competitive. The students were amazingly talented — my group included K. Adimoolam, R.B. Bhaskaran and S.G. Vasudev. Paniker would often organise evening get-togethers on the college campus, and invite judges, consulate members and other prominent people in the city to see our art.

My six years there went by in a flash. The grounds were beautiful — quiet and peaceful, and the trees were our inspiration. We could draw landscapes and outdoor sketches on the campus. At other times, Adimoolam, Sivakumar and I would go off to the Red Hills and surrounding areas such as Sholavaram to do landscapes — those areas were all lakes and greenery, with hardly anyone around.

We would be given free art material from the college, but they wouldn't be sufficient, so we would go to Vasan Brothers to buy our own. This was a small shop in a side alley in Sowcarpet, and it was the only place you could find art supplies in those days. We would just walk down from college — buses would ply rarely, and hand-drawn rickshaws were the only other transportation. You only got the U.K.-based Windsor & Newton paints and brushes. Indian brands such as Camel came much later.

There were no private art galleries in Madras until the mid-1960s. The first to open was Sarala's Art Centre in 1965, which was housed in a godown on the Taj Connemara premises. It was started by the Daruwalas, who came down to Madras from Bombay. They did specialised framing as a source of income, and provided gallery space to help the city's artists. It was one of the few spaces we could exhibit our works in, apart from the Centenary Exhibition Hall at the Madras Museum. Those were very difficult days for artists. There was very little awareness or appreciation for art.

When Paniker started the Cholamandal Artists' Village in 1966, he asked me to join him. I lived and worked there for two years; it was a nice atmosphere. I remember, the land was completely barren, and we were the only ones in that area. We had to level the uneven ground, and build a shed to work in. We did a lot of batik there — it was our chief source of income since there was virtually no market for our paintings and sculptures.

After I left Cholamandal, I joined the Government College of Arts and Crafts as a lecturer. I would go to college by five or six in the morning to do my sculptures before classes began. There was so much freedom in the college. Artists such as A.P. Santhanaraj and S. Dhanapal were very supportive — they'd open the department up for me whenever I wanted.

There was no substitute for hard work. A small handful eventually succeeded in being noticed, and I was one of those fortunate few.

BIO C. DAKSHINAMOORTHY Born in 1943, he was an integral part of the Madras Art Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and a founding member of the Cholamandal Artists' Village under the tutelage of K.C.S. Paniker. A painter and sculptor, he's well known for his stone sculptures inspired by rural and tribal art forms.

I REMEMBER When I was living at Cholamandal Artists' Village, we'd go to the beach early in the morning. And, if we helped the fishermen pull in their nets, they'd let us have a bit of the catch for our meal!

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 2:02:43 PM |

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