An insight into an artist’s studio is a rare opportunity where one can observe the artist in his private domain, in dialogue with their craft, meticulously shaping their creative instincts into works of art. Over the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of visiting several studios of artists across generations pertaining to various projects, including exhibitions, publications, and archives among others.
One of our publications, Faces of Indian Art, takes the reader on a unique journey that provides an inside view of artist studios—some clean, some cluttered, some lined up with physical objects, books and materials used by artists while others only possess easels and paints. A journey into the studio is indeed a fascinating one!
My intrigue about the artists and their practices led me to explore different artist studios and I wondered how the studios were reflecting the myriad stories that an artist carried within them. Recalling the first time I visited Thota Vaikuntam’s studio in 2002, it was for the research for a major publication we were working on. His studio in Hyderabad was in a small room where he worked on a table surrounded by small bottles of paint and small acrylic artworks that adorned the room.
He often ended up spending more time in his village; on one of the research trips, I accompanied him on the journey to his hometown where we met his teachers, friends and family. On the way to Burugupalli, I noticed several Telangana rural, sari-clad women who were ornate, voluptuous, wore the red signature bindi against smeared sandalwood and had a sense of rustic beauty; I felt like Vaikuntam’s canvasses had come to life and his studio expanded beyond the modest room in the city.
The images, colours and forms that defined the artist’s oeuvre were deeply rooted in his understanding and beauty of the Telangana women and pastoral life. Vaikuntam’s defining characters like priests, farmers and the mythological Krishna are also inspired by the local theatrical practices that the artist had encountered in his village. In some sense, his work is an everlasting tribute to his roots.
Today, Vaikuntam lives in the city of Hyderabad where he has spent years exploring his roots through his vivid canvasses that portrayed the life of Telangana rural folk. Evolution, however, is the process of life. Of late, a contemporary idiom has started taking shape in his works. His iconic rural characters now look much more contemporary in their forms compared to the rustic enigma that defined them.
Becoming a city man himself after a significant journey as an artist, Vaikuntam’s compositions have evolved to be less rustic with chiselled faces and bright colours. Today, Vaikuntam visits his village much less but his memories always carry him back there—the Telangana women, the games he played as a child and the inspirations that have shaped his practice.
The artist studio, reflective of the artist’s personality and oeuvre, surely gives us an insight into the thoughts and creative process that go behind any artwork.
Founder and Director, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi