Talented artist and teacher

S. DHANAPAL WAS a master painter, sculptor and above all a great teacher. He encouraged and nurtured talented youngsters with compassionate care, so that they could carve a niche for themselves. A few days before his death on May 15, at the age of 82, there was a young boy at his bedside learning to paint, because Dhanapal had faith in his talent. Many of the well-known artists of today owe their present status to Dhanapal and they do not mind accepting it. Many of them almost lived with him as part of his family.

S. Dhanapal was a faculty member of the College of Arts and Crafts and was in charge for a while after K. C. S. Panickar retired as principal. Then he was transferred as principal to the College in Kumbakonam in 1968. He returned to Chennai as the principal in 1972, after the retirement of Krishna Rao. He retired in 1978. An acknowledged deputy of Panickar, he also played a major role in the founding of Cholamandal Artists' Village in 1965. In 1962 he won the National Award. In 1980 he was made a fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Dhanapal used to paint with watercolours and tempara in the Bengal School style, but he had also adopted the southern idiom like the Lepakshi murals. He used to draw directly with a thin brush with simple, flowing lines and forms, creating compositions, revealing his powerful draughtsmanship.

But as a young teacher in the college, then known as the School of Arts and Crafts, helping the then principal D. B. Roy Choudhury, a well- known sculptor, Dhanapal too was drawn into the field of sculpture. He made a mark there too evolving a style of his own; his stylisation of forms was excellent and his famous sculpture of ``Avvaiyar'' in which the face looked somewhat flat in the profile view, was immediately recognised as the great poetess with the bent body of an old woman.

Between 1955 and 1962, he made some remarkable sculptures like ``Mother and Child'', which were full of bhava. Without too many details they brought out the contemporary sensibilities of those days. The compositions were tight and compact. Said Panickar of Dhanapal's work, ``They have those peculiarly vital and genuine sculptural qualities, which should distinguish them as the work of a man who imbibed not only the best traditions of his country but also interesting aspects of contemporary world sculpture.''

Later he immersed himself more and more in teaching and guiding youngsters, and made only occasional pieces for exhibitions. He has taught almost five generations of artists. He has made portrait sculptures of well-known personalities, who were his sitters and these included Periyar, Kamaraj, Dr. Radhakrishnan (when he was the President of India), Bharathidasan and G. R. Damodaran. Communist leader Jeeva took refuge with him when he went `underground'. He was also associated with personalities from the film world like K. R. Ramaswamy and N. S. Krishnan.

Attracted and inspired by the dancing of Uday Shankar, Dhanapal learnt dancing and became an important member of the Nataraj- Sakuntala troupe. His solo dances were much appreciated by C. N. Annadurai and Kalki. The dancer in him would be revealed in the way his hands moved when he moulded sculptures or even while he talked. He had deep interest in gardening and was also good at Bonsai, the art of miniaturising trees. Even during his last days he would water the numerous plants in his house in Mandaveli.

Some of the well-known senior artists, who were his proteges included L. Munuswamy, Antony Doss, Santhana Raj, K. Ramanujam, K. M. Gopal, P. V. Janakiraman, Kanniappan, Adimoolam and P. Krishnamoorthi.

A few of them became principals of the Arts and Crafts College, and for a host of senior and junior artists he continued to be a father figure.

Dhanapal also took charge of the Art department at Kalakshetra, Chennai, for three years giving it a new lease of life. His absence would surely be felt by artists and art lovers.


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