Celebrated artist Thota Vaikuntam looks back at his works and inspiration in the run-up to his retrospective in the city.
For Thota Vaikuntam, his true work began at the age of 46. Today, standing at the threshold of 74, he has been one of the most prolific and iconic artists from India. To celebrate his work, a retrospective, which has been titled Bhaavanaatharangam, will open to the public at Jehangir Art Gallery from November 16.
“It was only after 2000, that I changed the scale of my work,” says Thota, with calm and endearing modesty. “It was only after I started working on canvas that I realised how a painting could affect the viewer even from a distance,” he adds.
Over 200 of his works (including some of his rare sculptures) have been curated by Manvinder Dawer. “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. Today, our relationship has moved beyond art. I have learned so much from him and am still learning. This show is purely a tribute to the genius and the man we all love,” says Manvinder.
Among his most iconic works are Telangana Women. “During my college days in Baroda, I would participate in every discussion or seminar and try to understand what the art world was talking about; not because I wanted to be an intellectual, but because I was curious,” he says with a chuckle. In one such talk, a Western scholar raised a point, which eventually and quite ironically, changed his perception of his art. “He said that Indian artists were only trying to imitate the Western artists, especially Matisse and Picasso. This remark hurt me a lot and made me think. Then I started from scratch,” he states.
Born in 1942 in Boorugupalli, Telangana, Thota spent his childhood days watching street plays held in the village and was inspired by 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.
“I am very proud to have been born in a village because I have seen that city dwellers cannot really capture the village life very well,” he says. When asked if he has been trying to capture the change that the villages have been facing in the post-industrial era, he adds that he hasn’t thought about it yet. “This will take me some time to understand and maybe I will slowly be able to say something about it too. But I’m in no rush,” he signs off.
From November 16, 11 am to 7 pm, at Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda