Since the beginning of the artistic activity of man he seems to have been influenced mainly by the two attitudes - physioplastic and ideoplastic. These attitudes, howsoever modified, are still present in the creation of the art of today. There are those artists who create with emotional upsurge of feeling and fancy and there are those who create with an intellectualised precision of an objective scientific researcher. Hebbar, born in 1912 in a picturesque tiny village - Kattingeri - of South Kanar, and brought up in surroundings, equally made picturesque by village festivals, dance, drama and song, naturally inherited the ideoplastic attitude towards life and art. As a child he showed precocious ability to express in paint village festivals and pageantry at once colourful and enriched with folk-culture. His present love for dance and naïve childlike approach to his subject can therefore be traced to his early surroundings. The first impressionable years of a child thus spent in a village life have not been in vain. They have left an indelible mark on his character and style. In his work we find a happy combination of rustic imagination and urban sophistication plastically expressed.
Like many artists of Western India he was trained at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay. Like his other contemporaries of 1930’s he went through a rigorous training of academic type in the Western style and ultimately turned in search of his personality trying to link his creative efforts to the rich traditions of his country. Naturally we find him in 1940’s struggling to be free from the eclecticism of styles like Impressionism of the Western School on the one hand and the Mughal and Rajput styles of our country on the other. Those were the days when the dazzling metamorphosis of Indian and the post-Impressionistic style by Sher Gil was in vogue. And no wonder, Hebbar had a short interlude with this post-Impressionism. Hebbar is, however, a searcher and at that an intense one by his very nature. This alert, restless, almost impatient artist avidly embraced new styles and new experiments with a sweep as rare and as surprising. The work of that period reveals strangely contradictory results like the emotionalised line of Ajanta and Bagh and the impasto-moulding of masses in oils. His sensitivity of line struggled against the mobile plasticity of the mass. Ultimately the line triumphed and this child of the village with the peripatetic experimentation came back to the village. His subjects of the painting too at that time were rustic in character and dramatic in human elements. Even to this day the influence of the village continues. Though living in a bigger city like Bombay, his inspiration comes from the corner of the city where the humble working classes are engaged in earning their livelihood by an equally humble work. That is the reason we meet the builders, farmers, fisherfolk, fruit-sellars and others of the type. His line now assumes power and the artistic motive of enforming shapes. It is not there merely as a decorative quality but it is there to be vitally integrated.
At this moment of his development, Hebbar went to Europe and for a while studied at the Academy Julian, Paris. The impact of the Modern Art World on this sensitive artist was perceptibly strong. A new world of form was opened before him. And that aspect of modern art where line and form metamorphose almost in the Indian traditional way became most acceptable to his brush. So far he had tried to express Indianness with the technique of the Western painting. Painting in flat masses easily simulated Indianness but then after seeing the works of modern masters like Matisse and Braque, Hebbar’s paintings became free of chiaroscuro. The shaded portions of his compositions, instead of being merely tonal and graded, now became virtually coloured passages from dark to light and from hard to soft colour orchestration. This colour orchestration, independent of chiaroscuro, continues in his painting to this day. Another quality inherent in Hebbar but developed with the impact of the West is the quality of Design, which becomes an independent creative force of many of his paintings. The lyrical rhythm of his sketches, when impregnated with this quality of Design turns out to be an overall pattern, expressive of multiple nuances of space and colour.
Paintings like Cock Fight, Pounding and Tile Factory are examples in evidence. Out of these two qualities Form in Hebbar’s painting is born. It is at once intense and emotionalised. Hebbar is not satisfied with a competent statement of mere facts. He renders this statement intensely personal and at the same time expressive of a particularised feeling. His builders and fishermen and women at their daily work assume a life of feeling. Equally varied is the interest shown by Hebbbar in his professional practice. Portraiture, murals and creative illustrations are some of the art-forms handled by him with equal competence. In all these forms of expressions the personal ideoplastic attitude is apparent. His imagination controls and colours the form. Many times the distortion in his painting is the outcome of his ideoplastic imagination, which takes pleasure in reorganizing not according to reality but to suit the life of feeling of his organisations.
Hebbar is a difficult artist to tag a name on. He is unorthodox though trained in an orthodox Western style. Avowedly Indian mannerist, he is free from the pseudo-traditional clichés. Though a lover of non-realist form, he is not an abstractionist. Deeply interested in the inter-weave of forms and space, he cannot be called a cubist. The different modalities of modern painting, however, are touched on and off, without making a creed. Yet his most successful work cannot fail to pronounce his interest in the problem of space. This problem of space is at the core of Indianness of Hebbar’s paintings. All his earlier essays in Indian art-forms and their organisation led him to a new understanding of aesthetic-space which is entirely different from the perspective-space. As a matter of fact, his present work is a restatement of this Indian aesthetic-space in a contemporary idiom. Intellectually Hebbar’s sympathies are with the humblest of the earth. This has coloured his art in a peculiar manner. The grandeur of vast open spaces, the majesty of natural elements or histrionics of opulence and power are rarely touched in his work. His vision spans a personal, intensely natural drama of human joys and sorrows on a normal level. This is the secret of his charm that one can discover richness and variety of evocation where it is at least suspected. His latest painting like the Tile Factory indicate maturity and control over the means and materials with which Hebbar has been painting for the last twenty-five years.
Hebbar has become one of our significant painters because of these qualities. First, he attractedattention as an artist of great promise and went through a period of experimentation, consolidating his position as a creative artist. Finally, he discovered himself as a painter with humanistic ideals expressed with an idiom which has now become easily identifiable as that of Hebbar.
Neither Hebbar nor his paintings are extremist. They appeal to you with a persuasive undertone somewhat shy yet convincing. They pronounce their nationality yet do not brag. Like Hebbar himself they are always natural. Striking a pose alien both to Hebbar and his paintings.
Published by Lalit Kala Akademi