Bringing to you our year-end series where we rewind to some of our most-read and most-viewed stories! In this article, we get you the excerpts of the profiles of Manjunath Kamath, Vasudevan Akkitham, Rajen, and Lalitha Lajmi
Temple sculptures and paintings, churches, and Jain temples were his initial museums from which he derived his fascination for the arts, says Manjunath Kamath. As a child, he used to collect small terracotta sculptures and paintings and try to copy those. “I wanted to capture the feeling of those images. For example, when a particular statue is worshipped in a temple, it does not remain just a statue. It becomes a living entity. As a child, I used to go to temples on occasions when they ornamented or removed the ornaments of deities and found special joy in witnessing the activity. I used to also frequent idol makers, who made Ganesha or Durga sculptures and learned from them. I can say that they were my first teachers,” shares Kamath about his initiation into the art field.
When he started pursuing his Bachelors in Fine Arts in Mysore, he was initially hesitant about the idea of choosing a major. He did not want to limit his skill-set or get bracketed into a category. So, even though he opted to study sculpture, with the encouragement and support of his teacher, he used to frequent all the departments and gain learning from them. “One week I used to spend with the painting department, the next, I would spend studying printmaking. I also had an interest in traditional art forms and spent time learning the same. That is how I developed the facility to work with a range of media,” Kamath says.
Regarded as a pioneer of Indian art, 63-year-old Vasudevan Akkitham has had a bird’s-eye view and understanding of its fascinating evolution over the last four-odd decades, and believes that we stand at a juncture that is quite promising in many ways.
He fondly recalls the formal inception of his artistic journey, when he began his stint as a pupil of fine arts at the prestigious Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda. “Some of the best minds in art education had come together to found this institution, and to build a legacy unique from their colonial predecessors. Their leadership groomed intellectually sound and probing students, and the art coming from here was far from parochial, but stood at the vanguard of the art movement of the time,” Vasudevan reminisces. From here, he went on to study at the globally renowned Royal College of Art, London, where his exposure to a world of art, quite literally, further transformed his keen acumen.
Asked if art education — and its result — has changed for the better or worse today, he mulls, “While the learning environment may be a little different now, there is a lot of opportunity therein to glimpse what is happening in any far-flung corner of the world. There are many means to acquire knowledge now, and the climate is no more as limited or concentrated on conventional skills. For instance, there was a time when drawing was all-important in the art pedagogy. Someone not as skillful in this might have been looked down upon. That is certainly not the case anymore. I have known many students not keen to continue with painting, who have moved into things with moving images, like film or digital avenues. There are different art languages to pick from now, accompanied by a sense of liberation.”
Even in his eighties, in the last few years before the pandemic struck, Rajen Chaudhari — known by the simple moniker of Rajen through most of his artistic life — was enthusiastically weaving in his workshop, tucked away near Raipur Darwaja in the heart of Ahmedabad.
His hands thrummed with energy and belied his age as they flew through the air, carefully invigilating the coming together of warp and weft to translate into, quite often, paintings of his very own artistry, wrought into fabric. For decades, Rajen had been a powerhouse for preserving the dwindled art of hand spinning and hand weaving, keeping it alive and vibrant with his sheer will and effortlessly natural skill. Living in Gujarat, he had become an epicenter of sorts for carrying on a well-beloved piece of Gandhian heritage that had transformed the Indian Freedom Struggle — and not just preserving it, but also mastering and reinventing the form, pushing its boundaries even as he acknowledged its heritage.
Befittingly, yet another constant as he worked was a sweet, gentle and infectious smile always — an indicator like no other that this artist truly loved what he did, as he had professed innumerable times over the years.
He had a long and prolific stint pursuing this artistic love, for over 70 years. But, leaving behind such a rich tapestry of legacy and learning, Rajen passed away earlier this year, on March 16, 2021, at the age of 90.
Lalitha Lajmi’s latest work, Memory Scroll, happened perchance because of the lockdown. Initially she could not adjust to the idea that she could not go out or meet people. “I have my studio in the garage, we stay on the third floor, and I was about to start an oil painting when the lockdown happened. Now, I couldn’t get back to it and I felt annoyed at myself thinking all sorts of thoughts like why did I not start it earlier, why did I not finish the painting earlier.”
In between her two works, she says, there is a lot of gap but even though she is not continuously painting, she keeps thinking about ideas and materializes them with fluid interpretations when she gets back to the brush. This is how, out of the introspection brought about by the pandemic, Memory Scroll took shape. “I just thought let me pull out those Japanese Rice Paper Rolls that I have. It was given to me by my cousin’s husband. I had never come to use those till the lockdown because I have such a busy life etching and painting,” Lajmi says. For her watercolor paintings she uses very thick paper, 600 gsm, because she washes and takes the colour out once or twice and uses several coats of colours. Working with the rice paper rolls called for a change in technique that Lajmi quickly envisioned.
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