`Believe in a work before you buy it'

September 26, 2006 12:00 am | Updated March 23, 2012 02:37 pm IST

Thota Vaikuntam is unassuming and rooted in the ethos of the Telengana region - a fact that comes across in no uncertain terms in his paintings. The intrinsic purity of colour, form and content are evident in all his works, for, they are replete with stylised jewel-like figures. The stylisation is a perfect foil to Indian classical dance as the figures seem to dance, as if following their creator in a statuesque movement, reminiscent of temple friezes, except that they are painted! In Ananda Shankar Jayant's dance, lines blur into movement and the static melts into action that is pure joy, so sophisticated, yet supremely simple. Alka Raghuvanshi brings together the acclaimed painter and the Bharatanatyam danseuse for a Take Two. Vaikuntam: Audiences are cautious about art. At least they want to understand it now. Earlier, artists were not exactly welcomed by society. But now the media hype has made art and artists into something unreachable and complex. I am the same, whether in London or New York!Recently, a neighbour said, `I keep reading about you in the newspapers, so what kind of art should I invest in - real estate or something commercial?' Ananda: Considering there is so much happening at the level of commerce in art, what advice did you give him? Vaikuntam: I said buy only work that appeals to you. You must believe in a work before you buy it! In college, everyone used to copy the European masters. I think the journey of finding your own idiom is what sets an artist apart and makes him, or conversely, doesn't make him. Ananda: It is so true of every form of art. It is not merely about finding your own style; it must work for you in every way, so that it becomes inseparable from you. Your figures are replete with clear and strong colours, especially yellow, ochre and kumkum red. Any special reason why you prefer these colours? Vaikuntam: I think it must go back to the first time I started painting. I was presented a box of basic colours, which I started working with. Then began my journey of looking for the right colours and trying to mix them. Now I've returned to the purest form of colours. Also, when I look around, these colours abound and therefore echo in my painting. You too have a very layered approach when it comes to dance - almost like a painting - yet, simple! Ananda: Thanks! It is high praise coming from you! But I think women are genetically programmed to multi-tasking. I try to bring multi-dimensional experiences into my work. And I think that we as a people have lost our inherent simplicity. We are all in the race to retain our place. Vaikuntam: Absolutely! It is a philosophy few understand. I came from an ordinary family. My father used to run a grocery shop in the village. When he heard of my desire he said, `All these signboard painters buy rations from me on a daily basis. How will you survive?' But my brother supported me. I even went on annashan (fast) and finally, my father had no option but to agree! Ananda: When I was a student in Kalakshetra, the major complaint they used to have was that I laughed too much and read too many James Hadley Chase books! My mother said, `I have no problem. Both will teach you to deal with life!' After all, in the ultimate analysis, the competition is only with yourself. Vaikuntam: Absolutely. If one really thinks, how many real artists are there? Only one in a thousand. When I wanted to go to arts college, people asked, `What will you do? Become a signboard painter? Or, at best, you'll end up painting the backdrop for local theatre groups?' To tell you honestly, I wasn't too clear myself as to what becoming a painter really entailed! To me, painting a signboard was the highest form of art! Ananda: Mine was the opposite. I wanted to do so many things at the same time! I still do! But in my case the gestation period is so long, like an elephant! So there is space for everything. Vaikuntam: I am accused of repetition. But how do you explain that there is change every moment? Ananda: It is a continuous process; you have to understand the nuances.

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