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  Weaving together works of wonder

Weaving together works of wonder

Published : Mar 17, 2016, 1:46 am IST
Updated : Mar 17, 2016, 1:46 am IST

The small-sized invite in hues of indigo was enticing. I put it away with the bunch of invites where I intend to go.

Master weaver Subbarayalu and senior artist S.G. Vasudev.
 Master weaver Subbarayalu and senior artist S.G. Vasudev.

The small-sized invite in hues of indigo was enticing. I put it away with the bunch of invites where I intend to go. Sometimes these intentions are paved with hell and from all accounts looked as if this too might be one of those times, but textiles are such a hit with me that I am willing to traverse the extra mile for any hand-woven textile connect. And when it is art and textile, it is bound to be balle, balle for me! And what I saw took my breath away!

The show, Painted Weaves — an exhibition of tapestries in silk by senior artist S.G. Vasudev is a show after my heart for he has done what I have always wanted to do with my own paintings. I doff my hat to him for creating a huge body of work in collaboration with master weaver Subbarayalu where the paintings and drawings of Vasudev have been woven as tapestries. Subbarayalu and Vasudev have drawn on each other’s artistic mastery and ingenuity to create fresh, original works of art. While the tapestries of works by Picasso and other artists that he saw during visits to Europe were the trigger point of his desire to see his work in the woven form, undoubtedly the form and content and masterly treatment of this collaboration is rooted in the indigenous and is completely Indian in form.

The present exhibition presents images from several of his series of paintings, such as Tree of Life, Maithuna, Humanscape, Earthscapes and Theatre of Life. The artist explores the eternal synergy between art and craft, tradition and contemporaneity, man and nature, and fantasy and reality. The tapestries on display are breathtakingly beautiful and it is evident that a lot of painstaking effort and collaboration with master weaver Subbarayalu has gone into them.

Over the years, woven imageries of select paintings were produced using a stand loom to hold the warp and facilitate the interweaving of the weft of silk thread in selected colours – often specially dyed for the purpose, creating a pictorial harmony of form, texture and colour. The loom is the ground for preparing a base in warp threads stretched lengthwise while the weft of coloured threads weaves patterns that transform paintings into silken imagery. The artisan interweaves each coloured weft over portions of the warp to form the design. Tapestries require meticulous planning and great attention to technical detail to arrive at the required artistic proficiency. It may take up to six months to complete a single work.

Vasudev’s awareness of and respect for indigenous crafts and textiles served as an impetus for revisiting traditional practices with contemporary consciousness and overcoming the inevitable challenges of such a long-term collaborative experiment – spanning over two decades.

The first piece took six months. But soon Vasudev understood the weaver’s needs and told him, “If you don’t mind, let’s work together,” he said.

Subbarayalu for his part requested him to not compromise in the selection of his drawings and paintings to not just select simple works. Of course, the meticulous and brilliant weaves take time, and Vasudev helped in getting the silk threads dyed to match the colours of his paintings. In the last 12 years, Vasudev has done about 60 tapestries. “I thoroughly enjoy the experience and think it’s very important that a contemporary artist collaborates with a craftsman. In India, the craftsmen are very poorly paid and exploited by middlemen. He sometimes asks for Rs 75,000-1 lakh for a tapestry and I pay it to him because I know his collaboration is equally important,” says Vasudev.

“I’ve always liked to work with different crafts; at Cholamandal too, we used to work with copper and other metals. I went to Paris and learnt the technique of stained glass, but unfortunately couldn’t do much here because it is difficult to get the material here,” says Vasudev. Vasudev is a founder member of Cholamandal Artists’ Village, Chennai.

Subbarayulu has been involved in collaborative work with renowned artists, including M.F. Husain, to translate their paintings into tapestries. Born into a traditional weavers’ family in Venkatagiri town (Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh), which is known for its traditional cotton zari sarees, Subbarayulu was trained since the age of 14 by his father, Battina Venkata Subbaiah, who was himself a master weaver. He remained in Venkatagiri till he was 29, weaving cotton ani-butha/jamdhani zari sarees in geometrical and floral designs. He went on to become a master weaver and created some fabulous designs that form the staple of the traditional weavers even now. He has passed on the baton and love for the handloom to his sons and daughter and many others who came to learn from him as a generous guru too.

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on