Artists

Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary 28, September 1979, pp. 16-20

A vigour-exuding lower jaw bone that terminates at an energetic angle by the ear-lobe and rounds off at a prominent, forward looking chin, establishing warm-blooded determination; a firm upper lip that holds in gentle control and guidance - not suppression - the full lower one; a gently sloping nose that ends up pleasantly at the tip, without the faintest suggestion of drooping; a proportionate forehead resting on taut, thick eye brows and rather thin but alert cheeks, giving the effect of a visage that seems to be sentient in every invisible pore and nerve-end; a search-light look, in search of some vague vision; perky, up-right, buoyant-arrogant stance (heightened further in effect by the upturned collar below the left ear) - that is Pakal Thirumal Reddy at the age of 22. Not necessarily, and presumably not wholly, as he might have appeared to people around him at that age; but primarily and essentially as he found himself, or rather as he thought of the mirror-reflected image of himself, -- for it is a self-portrait. It is Pakal Thirumal Reddy created in his own image.

P.T. Reddy, as he is popularly known in art circle, at home and abroad, is very much the same person, across the time span of now over 43 years, except that his face has filled up and his hair was greyed. The same ebullience and enthusiasm, zest and zeal, warm geniality and ingenuousness, determination, prolific and preponderant energy, eagerly seeking constructive flow of expression to fill up the ever enlarging contours of an indeterminate direction, continue to be the hall-marks of this veteran artist from Andhra Pradesh.

P.T.’s interest in forms was indeed innate, as he evinced a lively inquisitiveness in shapes and figures, their tone and tenor, appearance and complexion, from his early childhood. He recalls, how gleefully and with fascinated absorption he looked at his school mates’ flower and petal drawings. A visionary Headmaster, Abdul Sattar Subhani, who even in those days thought of setting up an educational museum in Karimnagar School, saw the glint in his eyes and goaded him on. Later, on Subhani’s transfer to Darul Alum in Hyderabad, when P.T. ran to him, Subhani at once offered him (mercifully thoughtfully) freeship, free lodgings and work. The tide was in P.T’s favour then, and Providence provided him with an opportunity that set the seal on the course of his life. A chance visit to his brother-in-law in the Reddy Hostel on the Scout’s day resulted in his drawing a portrait of Baden Powel, which caught attention of Raja Venkatarama, the Police Commissioner, The Chief Guest of the evening. He asked P.R., who was only 17 then, to do his portrait. So overwhelmed was he with the work that he prevailed upon the Reddy Scholarship Board to change its rules of awarding the P.T. Reddy Scholarship, to enable the gifted lad to go to Bombay to study at the Sir J.J. School of Art, placing him meanwhile in the care of an accomplished portrait painter in the Nizam’s Salar Jung Museum.

Within 4 to 5 years of arrival on the Bombay Art Scene, P.T. Reddy struck awe the metropolitan art world with the content and quality of his talent and his versatility, and acquired an ascendency that singled him out as a signal hope of the future. Inaugurating a one-man show of his works at the Bombay Art Society Salon, in 1943, Tara Ali Baig saw the Promethean light in his eyes and using the rich Shakespeare-Othello phrase declared that he would, ‘resume the torch of art,’ in India, by the integrating the vigour of western style with the richness of Indian traditions.

Whereas the time for a fair, proper, detailed and objective assessment of P.T. Reddy has yet to come, the Lalit Kala Akademi declared him as the fellow-elect for his distinguished and long service to art. As part of the programme, the National Academy organised an exhibition of P.T. Reddy in retrospect, covering in judiciously selected 194 works, the entire period of his creativity thus far expressed, i.e. 1935-1979. The selection was done by as eminent an artist as K.K. Hebbar, than whom there is none who knows P.T. more intimately from his very first arrival in Bombay. The exhibition was mounted at the foyer and first floor galleries of Lalit Kala Akademi and was on view from 14th to 24th of October, 1979.

It was on the two levels of this ‘ground’ that I made my first acquaintance with P.T. Reddy, rather with the externalised articulation and yearning of his creative urge, the energetic outburst of a beautiful soul. Having walked into the gallery somewhat jauntily, I soon realised that my speed had slackened with every advancing step, as I moved from piece to piece, in open-mouthed wonder at his fantastic range and diversity of styles. Then like a child, I quickly rushed from section to section to find an end to this vast mine of variegated riches, to return again at a leisurely pace. What superb sense of composition and design, impalpable technique, balancing rhythms, energies of the line, delicate delineation, riot of colour or masterly control of it’s subdues tones, eye for the detail or boldness to do away with it! What harmonies, what contrasts! What vivaciousness and vigour! P.T. Reddy paints with gusto. Indeed he treats his canvas with gusto and gay abandon. In the vast body of this variegated work, genres and styles, themes and subjects, mode and media consisting of portraits, still life, abstract movement and forms, tantric symbols, drawings and graphics is noticeable, on the one hand, the symbolic growth of the artist’s own mind - the journey of his soul having left its markings in each delicate motion, gestures and feeling, on the lines and lineament of each work, so to speak; and on the other, the progress, development and proliferation of contemporary Indian art, for it is a span which embraces in its entirely the modern Indian Art scene.

Along the horizontal plane, P.T. Reddy’s works fall under three periods: namely, the period between 1934-1943, 1956-1960 and 1960-1961 onwards. There are realistic portraits, impressionistic landscapes, expressionistic portraits of nudes, compositions that are abstract in feeling and arrangement, wherein space is organised rhythmically and in geometrical patters. But there is no strict vertical compartmentalization possible. There is ample evidence, however, of the artist’s growing concern for form, colour, tone, and general harmony and gradual abhorrence of stagnant academic tradition, the desire to produce broad, bold impressions and eliminate non-essential details. [1] In Toilet, for instance, a 1937 work, solid colour combines with simplified forms to give an extremely rich effect. [2] The earlier nudes are marked by careful observation and accuracy, but gradually he disengages himself from the fetters of frigid academic precision, in a bid toreach the creative emphasis.

As is obvious from the bulk, variety and range of such a body of work, P.T. Reddy is no orthodox in outlook, although he utilizes each style with equal alacrity, aplomb and finesse. When the prodigal staged a come-back with 45 paintings, in 1956, in the Jehangir Art Gallery, he uttered this sentiment in the following words: “I give expression to inner cravings, and I am unable to identify myself with any school of thought”.

But when we assess the art scene of the country in those days and look out towards the heights, we find him ensconced impressively on some prominent elevations almost at the very start of

Yet this could not be described as a sort of flash in the pan, for he emerges again and again on loftier and higher peaks, as the flower of his genius unfolds new burgeoning colours which soon get assimilated and transfused into ever enlarging integrations. Just how it happens one has to look at the earlier and later nudes. The earlier ones are, doubtless, a far cry from the later ones. Vision comes bathed now in the golden light of imagination, compositional skill demonstrates carefulness and maturity - all indicative of a conceptual whole. Just look at the Pingale Kamala portrait (portraiture incidentally was something that P.T. had set his heart upon initially). It is well-nigh perfect by the standards of the academic style in accordance with which it is executed. The portrait of Mrs. P.M.Reddy was done in 1936 (when P.T. was only 21) and is remarkable for its sensitive accomplishment, imaginative pallete, compositional elegance, dignified poise and stance. The left arm rests with naturalness across the thighs, the hand falling with ease over the side and its forefinger caught instinctively and with unselfconscious ease by the right hand which rests with a charming grace on the seat, by the percussion. The bangles, one each, shown prominently at the arm ends are beautifully balanced with the Bindiya on the forehead, while the darkened left bottom finds an opposite echo and answer in the area of the neck. The brocade border of the sarees receive prominent attention in parts, but is not shown too decoratively formalistically. The head area is left out, so that the attention gets concentrated on the face itself. The look that inhabits her eyes transposes truth, adding a dimension of intricacy to the intended communication. The earthy energy and vigour and contrapuntal richness of his pallete is noticeable with singular effectivity in still life done in 1938. Again take the controversial Krishna Huthisingh portrait, a marvel of harmonies and precision, liveliness of line and colours, wholeness of design and composition. P.T.’s contention is that he had not come across Matisse at all even in black and white when he executed this work (1942). I am convinced that the portrait falls in line with the traditional miniature style and Andhra Folk Art. It is significant that a section of the critical opinion was aware of this even in the day when this work was mounted for exhibition for the first time, way back in the 40s.

The vigour and earthy energy of the Andhra soil tingles and glows, throughout, with artless ingenuity, open mindedness and simplicity, in a number of works such as the Kitchen Corner, the Morning Ablution, The Gossip, The Afternoon Rest and so forth.

As he sits on the tip of this outstretched isthmus, looking out toward the yawning oceans of future, having arrived there along criss-crossing and straight paths, pursuing portraits and nudes, sonorous rhythms shaped as abstract geometric patterns, graphics, eternal co-eternal archetypes, Shiva and Vishnu, pure geometric tantra, plant and animal symbolism, one searches for that hard-core inner nucleus that informs each part of this dissimilar and prolific work binding it into a harmonious whole - that unifying light which illumines this entire effort with the wholeness of a vision. P.T.Reddy has all the diversity of epic dimensions: Where is the epic unity? Such a question naturally springs to the mind, in the case of a veteran artist who has half a century of creative expression to his credit. Or, is P.T. like one of those voyagers for whom all experience is an arch where through gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and ever as they move, and who scoff at any attempt to super-impose an outward unity, to correlate the parts? For there are journeys where voyages itself becomes the vision.

There is however internal evidence of P.T.’s awareness of integrated conceptualization. The Nehru series illustrates it amply as also the Telangana one. This integrated unity acquires poetic excellence in the Nehru Portraits in which the symbol and the man are fused into an inseparably whole, the one

inextricably interwoven in the other. To my mind, nowhere else has P.T. put his pallete to such severe test, made such exacting demands on his own calibre to use his brush with incredible sensitivity to emphasise and bring out delicate unfolding of each petal in the flower through various stages, from budhood to full efflorescence, in order to signify the gradual unfolding of Nehru’s mental make-up and spiritual growth. The series sparkles with the imprint of true inspiration.

In Portrait No. 1, the whole face is visualised as a red rose, the outer petals still half-rolled, the main body of the flower in the forehead in a beautifully opening gesture, the eyes half closed in the inner rapturous ecstasy of a deep creative urge. Placement of the main body of the flower in the forehead with the nose serving as stem is significant. That is the seat of the Third eye, the eye of cosmic visions. There time exists neither as growth nor a succession, but a totality.

In No. II, the creative thrust has unfolded the vision; the outer petals have fully opened, the colour has acquired a richer tone; the main body of the rose about full-open has come down to the centre, the heart region of the eagle that covers the portrait in a wing-spread stance. The eyes are full open and vigilant. The whole is capped with a white cap. The white staff, the cap, the hands all signify Nehru’s love of peace and harmony, while the sanguine outlook and optimism is emphasised in the red-rose heart.

In No. III, yellow colour suffuses the red-rose. A crown has gone on top of the head. Nehru is resting his chin on his right hand and a vague worried look of concern dwells in his eyes. Black circular lines and red and white squares hem him in. uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Ineffable is the evocative quality of this work; remarkable its execution. The whole Nehru Saga wells up in the eyes as one is reminded of the eagerness and anxiety of this noble son of India to solve the problems of his countrymen (to wipe every tear from every eye), his own loneliness, his unflinching faith in India’s great tradition and future, recorded in letters of gold in his willand testament, his awareness of the shortness of time and overwhelming size of work, as epitomized in the Robert Frost lines found under the glass sheet on his working desk:

The woods are lovely dark and green

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

P.T. has achieved the incredible in that look in Nehru’s eyes.

In No. IV, Nehru is accused of ambition by surrounding people whose very looks betray their ugly designs. The crown has come down to the heart region, and their eyes are set on it. But the crown is atop the radiating point of power which is symbolised by the Sun that shines on all alike, without malice and with equipoised and equidistant charity. He is the same old genial peace loving pure knight, sans reproach. He looks puzzled but determined. It is significant that he has been done in white from shoe to cap.

P.T. is not a prisoner in the Palace of Art, and his is certainly not the ivory tower attitude. He is very much involved as is clearly signified by the sense of urgency and immediacy that he shows in his reactions to happenings around him with characteristic forthrightness, directly and sharply. His 19 paintings on Telangana agitation illustrate this amply. The entire original range of the flashy, the sanguine, the warm, the mystery-evoking colours is pushed overboard in one grand wave of the brush which now takes to repulsive combinations of yellow and black to paint the inner ugliness, depravity, and morbidity of politicians’ contorted souls. The paintings are the anguished outpourings of a sensitive soul’s protest against misuse of power. They are outburst against foul play, chicanery, unscrupulousness, ghoulish greed and rapacity that shows man consuming his fellow men, but actually debasing himself and eating away the vitals of mankind. P.T. delves deep into the traditional imagery of profanity and debasement of soul - the howling dogs, the baying jackals, the flying bats, the carrion consuming vultures - with poetic fervour and passion.

The apotheosis of this series is the presentation of the self-seeking politician as a vulture which thrives on putrid meat. The neck and hooked beak stick out and above the inset politician who is no other than the devil himself as can be recognized by his horns and his claws. Gone is the lissom line which is so characteristic of P.T. and of which the later nudes are a remarkable example. A drooping line marks off ugly bulges in the body, biceps and calves particularly, to indicate not laziness or ease, but a repugnant disease of both the body and soul. The picture does not leave one cold or make one indifferent. It evokes a strong feeling of revulsion and contempt, which one is never tired of pouring out in abundance on the ugly repulsive creature. The teeth are gappy, broken and unequal. The livid colours orchestrate and conspire with the drooping line as though the ugly soul has been painted in its own regurgitations and puke.

In the hands of a novice, an unsteady cheap publicity seeker, this could have resulted in something merely trendy and fashionable. But P.T.’s use of the toned down colours to heighten the grimness of the situation, and his use and understanding of the pictorial logic of linear movement and rhythm avoids all such impressions. The naked and semi-naked figures overlap in a hazy crazy, juxtaposition, to accentuate the macabre drama of this fiendish dance of corruption, voluptuousness, betrayal and lascivious excesses, recalling the images that Nichiketa might have visualized as he waited for the Yama on the doorsteps of Narak.

Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary 28, September 1979, pp. 16-20
Sign In Close
Only Critical Collective subscribers can access this page.
If you are already a subscriber, then please log in.
 Forgot Password?
Subscribe now