Artists

I went to Bombay towards the end of 1948 and met Raza in the Rampart Row Gallery of the Bombay Art Society where he was showing his paintings of Kashmir. Within a few days, I had met Ara, Gade, Husain, Souza, Bakre - all members of the Progressive Artists Group. We talked of art, modern art in particular and, naturally, we talked of persons and personalities. There was one name among the artists preceding the P.A.G that came up again and again. That was of P.T Reddy. He had disappeared from the scene by then but was a legend already. Of course, I learned of Majid, Bhople and Baptista who together with P.T. made the famous group of rebels. I had not the slightest idea of his work, or of the man beyond that he was somewhat an ‘enfant terrible’ who has shaken by the neck the convention and prudery characteristic of the art of those years. He became soon a sort of an enigma but I never hoped to meet him. He was lost to art and was in a kind of ‘Agnatavasa’, somewhere in Lahore or Hyderabad.

Some ten years after, in 1956, I was with Raza in Delhi soon after his first homecoming since his departure to Paris. I sighted a person at a distance striding at a rather awkward gait, rather rough and tough looking, and unkempt in a way. Raza and this man from nowhere rushed towards each other, hugged and lifted each other. It was quite a sight, quite a greeting. I was baffled. That was how I met P.T., the formidable P.T. as I came to know him later. He had come out of his ‘Kalpanik’ shell and had started painting all over again

What followed this strange meeting and introduction is recent story, intimate and revealing.

What P.T. has done since then is a remarkable story of grit and guts to stage a successful comeback in to the world of contemporary Indian art. He had to start from scratch and he has done it. He has done and redone almost every phase of contemporary art since then, until he gave it his stamp. And I can think of no one who has recovered his calling, and pursued it with such a dogged determination to find a place for himself. To P.T. it was a case of regaining the lost soul. Our common friends Hebbar and Gade have since told me more of this spectacular man and artist. Now I know him as I know the underside of my palm. That is one side of my P.T. story.

This homecoming into art was not easy. He had to repeat almost every style and trend chequered during the time of his self-imposed exile.

His capacity for hard work is as well-known as his indomitable will. There was comment, adverse reaction, and unwillingness to welcome him. P.T. had to brave all this, carry on undeterred, until the very detractors became his admirers and friends. I know of no one else, in any field of creative activity, who has made such a spectacular come-back.

Much later, in the mid-sixties, I had occasion to be with P.T. at his sprawling den in Hyderabad. His prodigious work astonished me. It is impossible to recall all the shows of his works I have seen. I saw in his home twice the amount of work I knew of. He had taken up a trend or style making it yield as much as his sensibility and imagination demanded. Figures, to start, then a complex range of compositions, portraits, still-lifes, neo-tantric manifestations, graphics, and sculpture finally.

He came to the Lalit Kala Akademi and made his mark there, too, as no one has done before and since. He became a stormy petrel and is now Vice-Chairman. But of this others have said more.

As I write this there is an entire cavalcade of his works across on the screen of my mind. The scenario is mine, may be unrelated and I let my impression unroll as they will. I rely on what sticks in my mind.

The “Artist and Model”, an early picture, moves in. I remember it and like the rich red background highlighting the black upholstery and golden yellow skin of the model. The concept of the nude, in this manner, is of the West. But it reminds me, and I hope P.T. will endorse, so much of Basohli; and how close to his excellent series of nude girls of 1938. Then there is the 1938 still life, so good because of the tactile quality of texture, one of the finest I have seen in the academic J.J tradition. It is a very sound composition in a bright, harmonious palette. His portrait of his wife, Yashoda, 1955; the flat treatment of the coloured area and the exquisitely clear line is what makes this painting important. Then the “Resting Women”, of 1938, moves in. I believe that it does not owe so much to Picasso or Post - Impressionism as to the essentially Indian pictorial schemata - to the western Indian miniature tradition, perhaps; the line, the projecting eye, for instance. The “Magician and Women” (1969), so close to his Andhra Political Series. “Moon and Women”, this is no conquest, but a joyous romantic vision of a woman holidaying on the moon. It is a light palette but the chromatic perspective is so deep. The “Morning Ablution” of Gaugin, but I may be wrong. Then there is that beautiful portrait of Pingili Kamala, so full of feeling for youthful beauty and grace, and so distinguished technically. P.T.’s study of Krishna Huthee Singh is exalted portraiture. The brilliant contrasting palette of red, black, yellow and green, the flat treatment of colour, and the sure line delineating the details of the figure and the interior is a voyage from the West into heart of Basohli. Such is the stuff of which P.T. and all of us are made the strange fusion that the cultivated contemporary Indian is, a fusion of the national and universal identities.

P.T. did entire series of graphics and later paintings derived on the tantric ideology. The 1970 “Lingam”, and the “Symbol of Shiva” as the magnificent trident are among the finest realizations of the kind, what with the severe symmetry, balance and impeccable design. All artist are sensitive, highly sensitive, in fact. And P.T. is more sensitive than many, at times even high strung. It is a necessary characteristic of all creative people. P.T. is touched very quickly by anything that seems to run counter to his own views on the matter and reacts sharply and forcefully. But he can cool off as suddenly and all is well again. It is this capacity to recover from high temper that endears him to most of his friends. He is one of the most affable persons finally.

And about his energy and capacity for hard work. He is a dynamo when he is set to do a thing. Food, drink, and rest, everything has to subserve this call for action. I have known artist fairly at close quarters, and many very intimately. And I have felt that in the majority of cases the man and artist are one, and the latter is much better understood in terms of the former. P.T. Reddy is one of the finest instances.

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