(Artist JS Khanderao)
Jagadevappa Shannkarappa Khanderao (b.1940) aka JS Khanderao still lives and works in Gulbarga in north Karnataka. Occasionally he comes to Bengaluru as his daughter lives in the city. Otherwise he prefers to live in Gulbarga and teach art. The sudden attention that has come on him with the retrospective exhibition curated by the curatorial team of the National Gallery of Modern Art-B (B for Bengaluru) does not seem to bother him much. Perhaps, he has never aspired for such adulation and attention from the city folks who go to the galleries and museums and say a few good words about somebody’s art over wine and cheese (or chai and samosas). JS Khanderao, the 78 year old veteran artist underlines that he remains an art teacher and he finds happiness in teaching art.
(An early landscape by JS Khanderao)
Known to his region as a realist portrait painter and a fine landscape artist, JS Khanderao had gained his name as a fine painter with experimental verve in 1980s itself when he achieved ‘transparent broken glass’ effect using oil paints in his works. Though it cannot be considered as a great achievement as far as oil painting techniques are considered in those days not many artists were using oil as a medium to get water color effects. Oil was to be first and last an opaque medium with some amount of gloominess on the one hand and royal pomp on the other. Finding transparency using water color was not the forte of many artists nor had many tried to gain that effect with great care. However looking at the works of the Northern Renaissance artists one could see that they had been successful in getting this transparency especially when they were painting bed curtains and veils.
(A Commissioned portrait by JS Khanderao)
Taking this transparency to the secular subjects or rather existential subjects was the feat that JS Khanderao had achieved in 1980s but somehow the achievement got limited in his own geographical location without it becoming an imitable mode of painting. Nor did Khanderao try to send the style around in exhibitions and catalogues. Khanderao taught many students from his own Ideal Fine Arts College, a private institution whose legacy that he carried forward as a teacher. Before that he got his training in art from the famous J.J.School of Art. The works that he had done during his college days in late 1950s or early 1960s, show his familiarity with and influence of the European post-Realist art styles of which Impressionism stands dominant. His water colors of that time were done in pure Impressionist style and he seemed to have taken great pleasure in doing landscapes in the plein air style. A major portion of his works is done as demonstration works for the students whether they be landscape or architecture sketches or spontaneous portraits.
(Portrait study by JS Khanderao)
Khanderao likes to do two kinds of portraits; one, Expressionistic portraits and two, naturalistic portraits. While the former is often done as live demonstrations or purely for his pleasure the latter is done on commission. As a commissioned portrait artist Khanderao has earned a good name in his region. However, this has not helped him in arriving at a particular style. As the commissioned portraits demanded all the royalty and pomp of the good old oil painting tradition that had got filtered into collective unconsciousness of the people in the subcontinent via the European portraits and predominantly by the home grown Raja Ravi Varma, Khanderao couldn’t have applied his expressionistic style in those portraits. Hence, as far as the commissioned portraits are concerned he remains a conventional artist. But his creative verve comes out in full play when he sketches and paints in ‘live’ sessions. In his studio works and the class works done for the students, one could see similar looking models being portrayed. This could have two reasons; one, he used the same model in his art teaching institution or he had some inspiring men and women around him. Two, even when the models were different Khanderao was trying to get one ideal form in all of them. The slightly elongated faces of women with wistful looks perhaps express the artist’s earning for the ideal beauty in his career as a portrait artist.
(painting by JS Khanderao)
Khanderao also had a stint in depicting the traditional ritualistic performances in his paintings. This body of works perhaps is the pursuit of one particular time in his life as the color scheme, predominantly yellow and red, remains the same in more or less all the works and also the traces of this experience are not seen in any other works that he had done before or after this particular series. Khanderao, may be because of his teaching career looming large over his mind, seems not to have taken any particular trait even subconsciously as a binding thread through a major body of his works. Each period stands out differently except in his landscapes and water colors. This particular body of works that depict the ritualistic performances in North Karnataka could have been a good intellectual pursuit for him had he given a bit more attention to cultural politics behind those performances. But as a modernist, Khanderao’s idea is to find a new theme and a new form expressed with some amount of freshness.
(Latest abstract work by JS Khanderao)
What makes Khanderao a worth remembering artist is his latest phase of abstract paintings that could stand at par with any of the great abstract artists that India has produced. Modernist in nature and meditative in content, these paintings are done with a clear intention to come out of the strong figuration that the artist is famous for. And I believe this also has something to do with the confidence of the artist that he could also do this. Khanderao had studied at the JJ School of art when the high modernist artists were doing their abstract works. This distinct body of works does not carry any particular message or meaning, instead they stand for the color fields that the artist has created. The cutting lines and the curves generate some sense of rhythm and balance and looking for that intrinsic balance or rather the very question why the painting makes the viewer look for something beyond itself makes these works worth pondering over. While the artist is confident that he could go back to the figurative works, there is a question whether it is to be taken as a stop over a stop for good. An interested viewer could see that the finesse of abstraction in his painting that has surfaced with the recent body of works was already there in 1980s itself. But somehow the pressures of whatever kind on him did not allow him to pursue it till recently when he found that there was no such pressure to bother him anymore.
(abstract painting by JS Khanderao)
A question haunts me personally; why artists who belong to the rural folds do not gain ‘greatness’ the way the artists in the urban spaces have achieved. The answer is with me and it is painful and hurting. The greatness has to be achieved through exposure. Exposure needs conducive materialistic and spiritual environments. Such environments bring recognition and riches. To achieve these one needs to really struggle for a long time. Harder they come harder they go. Some artists after their education go back to the rural folds where they find happiness and solace. But they often miss a chance to develop greatness because greatness like a garden of flowers needs tending and caring. Happiness of simple life and the greatness of an artistic life are two different things though finally sum up in the happiness quotient. Today people could go back to the rural areas and function from here because technology and advanced travelling facilities have helped them to remain connected. Khanderao perhaps has been happier than any other artists of his time who chose to struggle in the cities where they could seek patronage, fame and artistic flourish. But greatness did not come to Khanderao not because he has any lack of money or happiness but because he could not get a chance to push his genius towards greatness. He flitted across various styles and derived his pleasure from teaching his students required skills. Finally he is at the verge of a great opening; his abstract works. But together they count around twenty. And if JS Khanderao let his works to be tested by time, this twenty will pass; rest will be forgotten including his broken glass transparent paintings. The National Gallery of Modern Art B has done a commendable job in bringing this lesser known artist to the mainstream art lovers. This show has to travel in the other centers of the NGMA. The exhibition has also got introductory essays by art historians, Suresh Jayaram, H.A.Anilkumar, Pramila Lochan and K.V.Subramanya that put the works of JS Khanderao in perspective. This is one show that I recommend to all so that they could make their own assessment about the greatness quotient of an artist whose chance to greatness has come to him with the latest body of his works.