S.G. Vasudev (March 2000)
We had the address all right, but then, it's not very difficult to find the house of an artist. Just look out for a house that looks different from the others. S.G. Vasudev, the world famous artist, lives in S.T. Bed layout of Koramangala, in a warm, spacious and aesthetically designed home that has abundance of light filtering in from all over.
Born in Mysore, he grew up in Bangalore where he completed his graduation with Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Vasudev had this great urge to study art. His mother, a painter and father an agriculturist, had this dream that their son would become a doctor or perhaps an engineer. "But I was always interested in art and had to convince my parents that I should get into painting," he says. With no art college in Bangalore, the nearest option was the Govt. College of Arts & Crafts, in Madras. A leading institution in the country at that time and headed by well know and leading artist himself, the late M.C.S. Panicker, it was the perfect setting for young Vasudev to learn the rudiments of art.
The idea of an artist's village was conceived of during the final years at college. Explaining the concept, Vasudev says, "Those days it wasn't possible for many of us to make a living through art. Madras was conservative, with not much support from the people or the media. Hence, we thought of extending art to a craft where artists could work on batik, textile, ceramic, pottery, metal ware - which could bring money to keep them going." A co-operative society was formed and the Cholamandal Artists' Village was thus born.
Vasudev - being a Bangalorean - made frequent visits and maintained his connections with Kannada Literature, which brought him in close touch with people from the literary field like Girish Karnad, who coincidentally, was in Madras those days. Says Vasudev, "I married my fellow artist Arnavaz and we lived our life in Cholamandal until her death in 1988" That's when he decided to move back to Bangalore. His son was only seven years old and he wanted him to have a family. Besides, Bangalore was "positively a very open city." It was a smooth transition since he had his roots from both places. His constant interaction with the literary scene helped him settle down fast. He came in contact with environmentalists, filmmakers, activists and other non-artist groups.
He admits that the art scene has changed. More art galleries, artists from diverse backgrounds and from different art schools - the canvas has pretty much expanded in the last 10 years or so. Awareness for art now has a face and therefore, budding artists can harbor hopes of making a living through their work unlike the Cholamandal days. Nowadays he works more than he used to earlier. At any given point of time he has some 30-40 blank canvases in his studio and just goes on painting. "Artists have no retired life," says Vasudev. There is a shift in his type of work too. He was always interested in landscapes and Fantasy landscapes. Poetry - mainly Kannada poetry - was also a big inspiration. Slowly the tree took center stage in his paintings. He studied the tree's philosophy. Why it is so important for religion itself? How Hindus look at a tree? How Buddhists look at it? In every religion the tree has significance. In that series, he created his own myth around the tree. Then the Tree of Life and then it became Tree of Life and Death. Later, he shifted focus to Human Heads and then Human Heads became Human Scapes. "This led to a series called Earthscapes, which reflects my concern for the environment," says Vasudev.
The moment of crowning glory? National Award in 1967 at the age of 24, one of the youngest to have achieved that distinction. "I was very excited about it," recollects Vasudev. In 1994 the State Government conferred on him the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award. He has great regard for his mentor, the late K.C.S Panicker, who along with K.K. Hebbar were the two artists greatly having influenced his life.
As this crazy world moves on and gets deeper into being hi-tech, somewhere in a small nook, one person carries on with his work, regardless. Married now to a journalist, Vasudev has come a long way since the Cholamandal days. He's a successful artist by any standards, except his own. In his dictionary, there's no such thing as "having arrived". As long as he has the urge to paint, "I will do so," says Vasudev. That's his yardstick to measure success.