The big picture

The big picture

The big picture

K T Shivaprasad feels a painting should be like a free-flowing conversation between the artist and the viewer. GIRIDHAR KHASNIS writes.
I was blessed to come under the tutelage of the likes of Shankar Palsikar, Sambhaji Kadam, Akbar Padamsee and Vasudeo Gaitonde way back in the 1970s,” recalls 66-year-old Tumkur-based artist K T Shivaprasad. “They were all remarkable people who taught us to look beyond the obvious. Their sense of aesthetics and training methodology were unique.”

Recently chosen for the prestigious Venkatappa Award by the Government of Karnataka, Shivaprasad remembers his teachers who motivated students to expand their vision while exploring new territories and techniques. “Kadam, for instance, kept telling us how our portraits should ‘show the skin’ of the model. I remember his words to this day. They come back to me whenever I set up my easel to paint.”

Gaitonde and Padamsee were not officially on the faculty list of J J School of Art, but were invited by Palsikar to interact with the students regularly. “Both of them were brilliant painters and great human beings. Just then I did not know Gaitonde was a Buddhist. He lived the life of an ascetic and died almost unnoticed. It is only years after his death that the art world woke up to his genius.”

Shivaprasad’s own life story makes for interesting reading. Born in a well-to-do family, he joined an engineering college but left it half way and ran away to Bombay against parental wishes. With the help of a distant relative, he secured admission at J J School of Art, got sucked into the whirlpool of the big city, but eventually succeeded in getting his diploma in painting in 1973.

On his return, Shivaprasad located himself in Hassan and got actively involved in the farmers’ movement piloted by iconic leader Professor M D Nanjundaswamy. He also developed close kinship with writer Poornachandra Tejaswi and several other activists involved with the movement.

Shivaprasad’s first solo exhibition was in 1976 in Bangalore; since then, he has held nearly 20 one-man shows in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. As an artist, he has subjected his large canvases to constant experimentation. Folk, tribal and contemporary traditions and elements seep into his work which often has riddle-like imagery with mysterious expressions and concealed meanings. His mastery over the depiction of the human figure and condition has earned him both critical and popular acclaim.

In a freewheeling tête-à-tête with Sunday Herald, Shivaprasad spoke on a wide range of issues, including his keen interest in science, arts, philosophy and Buddhism.

On the artists he admires: I have great respect for many Indian artists, particularly those who worked in times when there was hardly any encouragement for art. That they lived their lives in painting itself was a great achievement. But looking back at their works objectively, one also wonders why they couldn’t do even better; why they became easily gratified; and why they started repeating themselves once they became popular.

That is where some of the artists from the West standout. Picasso, for instance, was never satisfied with himself and was always trying to reinvent himself.

Another artist I greatly admire is René Magritte. He was absolutely magical — always questioning the perceptions of reality and providing extraordinary insights into the unknown, ungraspable and unexplored. His paintings look simple, yet transcend all preconceived notions.

I am also captivated by artists like Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and several others for their probing intensity as well as astounding craftsmanship. 

On the art of painting: I have always believed that a painting is never completed by the artist; it is the viewer who completes it. When there is no viewer, there is no painting. I may paint anything, but when a viewer sees it, he or she searches for a meaning and makes his/her own story about it. If the same viewer sees it after say, a year or so, the same painting might reveal something else. That means that the painting has changed, or the viewer has changed, or both have changed!

Painting also has this mysterious quality and character that the same object, person or incident can be seen in many forms, perspectives, and points of view. There are no constants, no fixes. For me, a painting should be like a free-flowing conversation; and a seamless channel of communication. Otherwise, it becomes just a static, predictable and lifeless piece of canvas.

On his fascination with science: I have always been curious about things which happen in any creative domain, be it art, science, philosophy, theology, cosmology, or futurology. I am interested in the concepts of space, time, mind and matter. I love science because it allows everything to be questioned; nothing is constant and everything moves. It is like breathing — something comes in, something goes out; in the same way as we absorb things, and give up things.

As an artist, I do not see any contradiction or confusion between art, science, philosophy, etc. For me, all great scientists, artists and philosophers essentially question reality and its relationship with the outside world. For that reason, I see Buddha, Nagarjuna, Allama, Basavanna, Magritte, Stephen Hawking... all of them forming a continuum.

On Poornachandra Tejaswi: He was a truly inspiring figure and a great friend. His worldview was revolutionary. From the tiniest insects to the most profound and complex life patterns — everything interested him.

I spent some of my most important and exciting days with him. I miss him to this day. Another person who left a deep impact on my life was Prof Nanjundaswamy whose life and exceptional thought processes were truly inspiring. I wish we had such people in our midst today.

On the present system of art education: Art colleges have failed. They are happy to teach craft, but nothing about life and living. It is not enough to tell students how to hold a brush or mix colours. Those are technical things which can be taught and learnt with some effort. What is more important is exposing students to the ever-expanding and ever-changing wonders of life.