A celebration of color, a celebration of his home state, a celebration of his art and a celebration of his life... is an apt description that one can give for legendary artist Thota Vaikuntam's solo exhibition titled, "Bhaavanaatharangam A Retrospective".
The show is one of a kind as it marks a retrospective of the iconic artist. The exhibition displays a volume of Vaikuntam's works since the past 4 decades. From paintings to sculptures to panels and drawings, the show will depict the genius behind Thota Vaikuntam's art like never before. Over 200 works have been painstakingly selected by curator Manvinder Dawar over the past 4 years and it will be rightfully shown at Jehangir Art Gallery across all 4 art spaces in the gallery.
One of the prominent artists of India and often highly regarded ‘man of vibrant spaces,’ Thota Vaikuntam stands apart with his distinctive oeuvre. Adding to his charisma is also an endearing modesty. Painting beautiful images of rustic Telangana women or by rather redefining the notion of beauty itself, he articulates the meaning of femininity and ethnic cultural identity. The ordinary attire of the rural people, their jewellery and everyday life became the visual vocabulary for Vaikuntam, epitomizing the typical Telangana ethnicity. He once said, “We all are decorative by nature. Men or women, we love to adorn ourselves with ornaments, with flowers, with clothes, bindis, and cosmetics that is how women in Telangana dress, with dazzling saris and blouses.” However, it is interesting to see how the artist deconstructs the richly embellished form with heavy distortions. The sinuous lines and dots in the saree of ‘Telangana women,’ the exuberant colours and earthy skin tones are very much part of his nostalgic childhood and he remains bound to it. Mr Vaikuntam states "I am feeling so elated to get a chance to see all the different works from different periods that I have done, they will be at the exhibition that is going to be held at Jehangir Art Gallery. Manvinder has put together a beautiful collection of my works which he has got from various collectors. I think, till date it's my biggest exhibition which will give an insight of what i'm doing and where my origins of my work comes from. I am so looking forward to seeing it."
Born in 1942 in Boorugupalli, Telangana, Vaikuntam spent his childhood days watching the spectacular street plays held in the village and was inspired from the gaudy painted backdrops. He grew up admiring naïve Calendar art and listening to the grand narratives unfolded by nomadic story-tellers and ballads. He would create images of mythological characters, mostly drawing from scroll narrative traditions and Theatre arts until he was exposed to a different kind of art in the city of Hyderabad.
A significant breakthrough in his life came while working at Balbhavan, Hyderabad where he found leisure to do rigorous work. It was then that he had an opportunity to work with renowned filmmaker B. Narsing Rao as an Art Director and achieved the National Award for the regional film, Daasi (Slave Woman) in 1989. In 1993, he received the National Award for art from Central Lalit Kala Akademi. During this period, he made several sketches of village people and their bustling life, which were also used in films.
Although Vaikuntam drew his inspiration from Indian art and rural folk traditions, his quintessential subject matter is none other than the rural people of Telangana. His art reflects the ethnic identity and pragmatic representation of people whom he was acquainted with. During his formative period, Vaikuntam created monochromatic visual repertoire in order to understand the nuances of his native culture. These are more convincing and stunning artworks ever produced by the artist in his artistic voyage. This very enterprise enabled him to grasp the sense of belonging and virtue of his own identity within a larger collective consciousness. Whereas his later artworks seem to assert the regional, ethnic identity with a sort of under toned articulation, which has now become even more convoluted and vivacious within his comprehensive chic of picture making. The physiognomies of the dark toned rural people are idealized and stylized in contrast to the conventional notion of the fair skinned that is considered beautiful.
In his early career, he made several charcoal drawings, large and small of human figures, torsos, full sizes and gradually shifted from his shocking, voluptuous and sensuous depictions. Discovering one’s own idiom is an artist’s primary struggle. Since then, he continued to paint native women with their real names as his titles. However, the shift was not a deliberate one but the ‘Telangana woman’ became his identity. He sometimes asserts that he always liked drawing and sketching imagery of his mother, who belonged to traditional Marathi vaishya family with her enormous bindi, typical earrings (gentelu) and flowing line and curves in the saree. Evidently, this imagery became a prototype for heavily embellished women in his art. It was after a long period of struggle that Vaikuntam came up with the Telangana women.
Speaking on this show, curator Manvinder Dawar says that, "My association with Vaikuntam is like family and we go back many decades when he accepted me as a new art dealer on the block with open arms. Over the years, I have spent many hours watching him work and we discuss about what is new in art and who the new, young artists are. He loves to know what they are doing and the new techniques they are developing, like a child eager to learn anything new, appreciating all and trying to help them in his own way. The warmth, the passion and his simplicity are indeed his plus. Today, our relationship has moved beyond art. I have learnt so much from him and am still learning. This show is purely a tribute to the genius and the man we all love, Thota Vaikuntam."