Artist Vamona Navelcar, whose work spans several decades and three continents, is been regarded as “Goa’s state treasure”. In her book Vamona Navelcar: An Artist of Three Continents, retired aeronautical engineer and nature photographer-turned-author Anne Ketteringham unravels the genius that is Vamona Ananta Sinai Navelcar. “The gentle giant of the arts”, as she calls him, Anne’s book is more about Navelcar the person than Navelcar the artist.
But for a chance encounter, a biography on the bachelor artist who earlier had lived and worked in Portugal and Mozambique (he taught geometry and art) and who now lives a quiet life in a village in Goa, would never have come about. Recalls Anne, “In early 2009, Antonio E Costa, a well-known artist, was showing me around Goa and we were headed to Pomburpa Springs when suddenly he stopped the car, leaped out and made his way to an old Indo-Portuguese house. We went into the house and Antonio introduced me to this frail-looking gentleman with mischievous eyes and as he put it, an artist who has no boundaries.” She adds, “As Vamona showed us his work, I was entranced by its sheer power as well as by his philosopher-like personality. I mentioned the encounter many days later to an artist friend of mine who replied that instead of the book on birds that I was planning, I could write about Vamona instead.”
After several meetings in which Vamona narrated his life stories and later his wish for them to be documented, Anne got started. Vamona, she realised, was an educated, well-read man, outwardly gentle, but inwardly like a volcano, at times known to erupt like a gushing torrent.
“A man of few words, he lets his art speak for him,” says Anne. Research on the book took her to Portugal twice, once to meet with some of Vamona’s friends and the second time, to attend his retrospective exhibition, curated by his best friend, his “brother” and his “soulmate”, Antonino Menzes, who passed away recently.
Getting out the book was anything but easy, with Anne herself dividing her time between Europe (France and UK) and Goa. “I could meet with Vamona only when in Goa and communicate with him by mail only, as he does not possess a computer, let alone Internet. Once or twice a week, I interviewed him and recorded our conversations. There were many gaps with Vamona not wanting to discuss some parts of his life, like his childhood for example. So, I started in the middle and worked forward and backward as snippets of information came to light. He was just about 80 years old then, with excellent memory recall of the past and we discussed whatever came to his mind or whatever he decided to tell me,” reveals Anne.
The author has brought out Vamona’s complicated and multilayered persona remarkably well. A reticent person, he bares his soul in whatever he paints or draws. His anger towards the wrongdoings of the world as depicted in his recent works like Cry my beloved Goa (shown in the book) and the Delhi Rape series are noteworthy. Anne, who feels Vamona’s line drawings are magnificent, has limited the number of illustration in the book as she did not want it to become a catalogue of his work.