Hobby on the niche

Venkatramana Hegde in Swastik Art Gallery, Uttara Kannada district.

One is in for a surprise when one visits Venkatramana Gajanana Hegde’s (Venkanna) house in Hithlalli, a village in Uttara Kannada district. This 60-year-old farmer cultivates areca nut and other crops in his small landholding. Besides, he has an eco-friendly hobby, where he creates artefacts from locally available resources and waste. The visitor is greeted by artwork made from a variety of materials like tree trunks, vegetable waste, discarded bulbs, tyres, plates, umbrellas and so on. These are hung around the portico of his house. There are bright life-size paintings on the walls, which were painted using the leftover acrylic paints. More surprises await the visitor in Venkanna’s traditional house which beholds the attention of art aficionados and, houses the Swastik Art Gallery.   

Creative channel

Venkanna cultivates just enough crop on his land to feed his family. He has the ability to see art in anything that is otherwise considered a waste and finds joy in his creative pursuits. This has enabled him to create eco-friendly designs, and over the years, he has evolved as an artist. 

Home decor and utility items, carved from tree trunks, with additions made of roots, stems, grass and bamboo are in use in his house. His living room is adorned with antique pieces, carved wooden pillars and doors which add a touch of elegance

 Swastik Art Gallery, located on the first floor of his house is set aside for showcasing artefacts, designer articles and other exclusive artworks. The display in the gallery can be categorised into three parts.

The first being decoratives made from roots and trunks of trees, including more than 200 images of Lord Ganesha and other figures of animals and birds. The collection also includes Venkanna’s labour of love — a hoard of paintings and drawings on dry peepal leaves. There are about 10,000 paintings by the artist, they include portraits of gods, goddesses, saints,  freedom fighters, world and regional leaders, poets, writers,  scientists, musicians, birds, animals and so on. The artist has written the entire Bhagavad Gita on 1,000 leaves fulfilling his desire of making a one km line of his artwork.

The second section encompasses around 2,000 glass bottles that come in myriad shapes, sizes and colours, some as old as a hundred years, adorning his shelves. Venkanna collected these from various sources and picked some up from scrap dealers. The third section is a collection of antique items such as household articles, old clocks, watches, pots, locks, chest, trunks and much more. There are everyday articles made from different parts of coconut and areca nut trees and an array of creative designs and greeting cards on display.  

Wealth from waste

Venkanna has an affinity for tree trunks and roots and a major chunk of his artwork comprises artefacts made of these products. The shapeless roots or trunks get transformed into utility articles like a teapoy, pen stands, vases and a variety of figurines.

For Venkanna, the talent is hereditary, he learnt the finer intricacies of art from his father, the late Gajanana Hegde, who used to make Ganesha idols out of mud. The first joint creation of father-son duo, on a root of the tree which they stumbled upon in their farm, resulted in a Ganesh statue which doubles up as a decorative stand in his home. What began as a pastime initially, soon developed into a skill, giving Venkanna fulfilment as a conduit for him to deal with the loss of his wife to cancer.

“Though I inherited this talent, it requires a lot of dedication, without which I would not have been able to continue this kind of work for the last 40 years. I manage my time well so that I can devote enough time to my occupation and the hobby. Indulging in this craft gives me creative satisfaction and it keeps me away from loneliness. I want to continue to do this for as long as I can,” says Venkanna. 

Ganapathi Balagaddhe, a poet and writer, is appreciative of the work done by Venkanna. “While art runs in the blood of Venkanna, he has refined it through his hard work and commitment. The passion with which he pursues his hobby is admirable. What makes his achievements all the more worthy is that he is a self-made artist from a rural area, which is sometimes deprived of even basic necessities.’’

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