A many-faceted personality

We should recognise and honour pioneers of contemporary art who have not received attention so far.

We should recognise and honour pioneers of contemporary art who have not received attention so far.  

R.B. Bhaskaran has performed many roles in his long career - artist, college principal and advisor to Governors on art. His recent appointment as the chief of the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) crowns a colourful career, spanning over 40 years. "I would say the best part of my life was when I spent the moments with students, guiding them in their pursuit in art. In the classroom, a teacher of art should be like flowing water, moving with the students freely and enabling them to bring out their best", he says. T. Ramakrishnan discovers the variety of his canvas.

BHASKARAN LOVES teaching art as much as the art itself. He too experienced what any other teacher went through - coming across a section of students, who did not display the same degree of interest that others had shown. To break such a stalemate, the teacher , according to him, should create an environment to motivate such students. For this, one can take an element of nature. And for Prof. Bhaskaran, cats were the reference. "This provoked those students to ponder over that even cats could be drawn in different ways. It also kindled interest among late-beginners". There is also an interesting dimension to this story. Prof. Bhaskaran is now known for specialising in painting cats.

However, these days, as the chairman of the Akademi, his focus is to prepare the organisation to chart out a new path. "About 30-40 years ago, the Akademi did everything for artists - organising workshops, providing scholarship schemes and arranging exhibitions. Today, artists do not require that much support in these areas though the institution should continue but carry out these functions in a streamlined fashion".

Having held the posts of regional secretary and Executive Board member of the Akademi, Prof. Bhaskaran (60) says the institution's contribution to promotion of art is immense. "The fact that Tayeb Mehta sold one of his works for a value of Rs.1.5 crores in an auction in the US is a testimony to how the Akademi's support to the artist in the initial phase of his career, can shape well one's career", he points out with a sense of pride.

"We should recognise and honour pioneers of contemporary art who have not received any attention so far. Secondly, Indian art should find its due place in the art world - these are all my priority areas". The Chairman is also quick to point out that the approval of the Akademi's General Council and Exeuctive Board is required to get these activities through.

Born in Chennai during the World War II, Prof. Bhaskaran had his early years in Salem as virtually the entire city had to be evacuated due to bombing. He came back to the metropolis to pursue advanced painting at the Government College of Arts and Crafts. It was there that he got the guidance of the stalwarts including K.C.S.Panicker, Dhanapal, Santhanaraj and Munuswamy which stands him in good stead even now. He also had international exposure as he studied intaglio printmaking lithography and ceramics in Israel.

Subsequently, the veteran artist joined the College of Arts and Crafts in the teaching faculty. In 1995, he became the principal of the College of Art in Kumbakonam and two years later, the head of the Chennai college. He retired from service last year serving the government for three long decades.

Does such a long association in government service affect his creative ability ? "For livelihood, one may work in a government organisation. But, that's no handicap so long as you have the fire of imagination".

After K.K. Hebbar in the 1980s, Prof. Bhaskaran is the only Southerner to occupy the post of chairman of the Akademi. Is it a reflection of the "North-South divide" in the world of art ? "Not at all" is how he responds. He also adds that though the growth of art in such a huge country is not and cannot be uniform, there is substantial progress all over the country in terms of creative expression or artistic excellence.

The Akademi chairman is emphatic in saying that "the Akademi should move out of metropolitan cities. Its activity should focus on district headquarters of every State". He recalls how people eagerly thronged an art exhibition organised on the occasion of the unveiling of Thiruvalluvar statute in Kanyakumari three years ago and wanted more such exposure "There is keen interest among people that has developed over the last five decades".

Prof. Bhaskaran is also conscious of weak spots. "We are very weak in documentation on our artists and various types of art, in the form of books and CDs, and on the Net". He says he will do his best in the next five years to overcome this shortcoming.

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