Sunday, June 6, 2010

The magic of water colours

If one were to have had that rarest of opportunities, that of watching an expert water-colour painter wielding a variety of brushes, a touch of colour here, a touch of colour there, that white space left, a hint of grey and Voila! You are now mesmerised by the life-like painting of the facets of the Mysore Palace, a scene at the market, the few houses in a hamlet, then late afternoon sun climbing over the walls. The master who created such marvels was late N.S. Subbakrishna (NSS), the artist who created wonders through his water colour and sketch paintings.

Sharing her memories about her artistic father, Karnatak vocalist Srinidhi says: "Unlike many artists, my father was also soft, less talkative and used to enjoy serenity of his own thoughts. He never lost his self-respect and faced all problems all alone, quite boldly.

"My grandparents had a desire to make him (NSS) a great musician. But my father wanted to pursue art. He used to observe keenly the clay works done by my grandmother and that inspired him to take up art as a career," recalls Srinidhi.

"He would get up daily at 6 am and play violin for about two hours. It was a ritual. Later he would paint till evening. The colours used by my father were manufactured abroad (Winson and Newton makes). Red was his favorite colour. He used to say that red covers the defects and he would not paint without using red colour at least in a corner. He was an expert in water and oil colours. He had drawn many portraits and sketches of Gandhiji, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri etc.," adds Srinidhi.

Subbakrishna's many water colours are quite lyrical — clouds borne by the wind, a wisp of hair across a woman's forehead —you pass from one painting to the other and look back, wondering if the figures in the landscape had moved. The landscape of his life is as airy, lyrical and subtle as any of his paintings.

Nanjangud Srinivasa Rao Subbakrishna was born in Nanjangud in May, 1914. He was the only son of Srinivasa Rao and Padmavathi. He desired to draw right from childhood. As though to help himself realise this dream, he was unsuccessful in passing the lower secondary exam. This was a blessing in disguise for his achievements in the world of art.

Mysore, in those days, had a host of teachers who had been 'brought’ by the Maharajas to teach in various schools. One of them made him pursue art seriously. It seems he spoke to Subbakrishna's parents and made them allow their son to follow his muse in an art school and in 1927 he joined Chamaraja Technical Institute under the guidance of the then Principal Alderton.

After pursuing art training under great masters K. Keshavaiah and N.G. Pavanje, for five years from 1927, he started drawing landscapes and portraits in oil and water colours. Apart from learning finer nuances of his craft, NSS started learning violin under musician Nanjangud Ramaswamy (father of R.R. Keshava Murthy). Later, during his stay in Chamarajanagar, he used to ‘ do the same riyaz everyday so much so his Coimbatore neighbour Ponnuswamy who was fed up, taught him music in a meticulous manner for three years.

After 1932, NSS started participating in art exhibitions. Those days, art exhibitions used to be held every year in Kodaikanal, Madras and Kollur. It was his great achievement that every year he used to bag the first prize in the art exhibitions. Most of his paintings focus on rural life with all its ingredients.

To catch the fall of light and the play of shadows, one of paintings of the Ghats of Varanasi had NSS waiting for two hours so that the shadows would fall exactly the way he wanted. This is almost photographic!

Subbakrishna persisted in painting even after his father’s transfer to Malavalli. First, he drew a painting of Malavalli Fort. This painting won him the first prize in the exhibition held over there. The then Municipal President Srinivasan bought this painting and got a portrait of his wife made by NSS which also got the first prize. A painting of a herdsman herding sheep was sold to the industrialist Gyansham Das Birla and it is still in the Birla collection.

NSS joined Mysore Porcelain factory at Bangalore as an artist in 1940. His job was to draw on the porcelain plates, cups and other items. When Srinivasan, the then Municipal President went to Gwalior, he took Subbakrishna with him. There, at Gwalior Potteries, NSS served as an artist till 1971 on a monthly salary of Rs. 200.

In his long colourful journey, NSS bagged many awards — A silver jar from the Mysore Maharaja in the Dasara Exhibition (1946), State Award (1964) and Karnataka Lalithakala Academy award (1980). About 600 works of Subbakrishna have been exhibited in many countries far and wide.

The Reserve Bank of India selected a painting of Subbakrishna and printed on the currency notes of denominations Rs.100, Rs.10 and Rs. 5. Though NSS is from Karnataka, his base for a long time was north India.

His talent was not limited to just landscapes, NSS has also done portraits and his series of every President graces the Parliament to this day. It was much later that he returned to Mysore, still wielding his brushes till his last days. NSS passed away on 18th Sept. 1993. NSS is survived by his wife Leela Bai and a son. Among his two daughters, Sreeroopa S. Madhav is no more. All the three children were well-exposed to art.
Over 35 art works of NSS will be on display at Pratima Art Gallery in front of Zoo for a day today (May 31), the day chosen to launch a website devoted to NSS' art. Apart from water-colours, there will also be his pen and ink sketches of Gandhiji.

On the same occasion, Suttur Seer Sri Shivaratri Deshikendra Swamiji will launch, a website which profiles the artist, his life and times and will serve to showcase his art besides enabling art communities to be formed.

The website has been designed by InfoTech Media, Mysore. Leela Bai will also be present. The expo will be inaugurated today at 6.30 pm.

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