It is difficult to say when art became a part of my life. But I vividly recollect that I had a fascination for colour and form even in my early childhood. I was born in a farmer’s family in a remote village of Andhra Pradesh, India where painting or drawing was not considered a faculty worth cultivating in anybody’s life. Still, whenever possible, I used to draw figures and forms, with one handy thing or another. When my interest in art deepened with age, my father got worried that something was wrong with me. He used to threaten me with dire consequences if I didn’t get rid of useless preoccupations. But the urge to express myself was so strong in me that I managed to appear secretly for the special drawing examinations during my high school education. This made my father very cross, but the success in these examinations gave me enough courage to run away from home in pursuit of satisfying my urge for art. My teacher, Abdul Satar Subhani, who was a great lover of fine arts, helped me in going to Hyderabad to continue my studies at Dar-ul-Uloom High School. I had to struggle hard for my survival there as I did not get any support from my family. Then luckily, one day I got an opportunity to draw the portrait of Lord Baden-Powel at a Boy-scout function at Reddy Hostel which resulted in an award of scholarship to me for pursuing art studies in Bombay. I left Hyderabad immediately without completing my matriculation examination (higher secondary education). By that time all the admissions to art schools had been closed and I had to join a private institution called ‘Nutan Kala Mandir’. This actually helped me in securing admission, after six months, direct to the third year at Sir J.J. School of Art (after appearing for the 2nd year examination privately). Thus I started my formal art training in the year 1936.
On arrival at the Victoria Terminus in Bombay with the P.J. Reddy scholarship in my pocket, I didn’t know which way to turn. I came out of the station to be greeted by the massive impersonal Municipal Building across the road. To me Bombay was a surprise and a thrill. I felt that I was in a totally different and unfamiliar world compared with my previous surroundings perhaps because of the fast local trains, the din and bustle of the streets with all types of speeding vehicles - taxis, buses, cars and Victoria’s. Everybody was on the move to attend to his or her own routine. Footpaths were jammed with crowds and there was noise everywhere. Somehow, I found a hotel where I could check in without having to answer many questions. A few days later I rented a room not far from the Sir J.J School of Art.
My scholarship amounted to Rs. 50/- per month, just sufficient to paint, live frugally and pay the school fees. My first work was a still-life with grapes and done in the realistic style. Also, I used to work on landscapes and portraits and copy antiques in black and white to learn light and shade.
In the year 1937, I participated in the Bombay Art Society’s annual exhibition. My exhibit won a small award. My early interest in realistic and academic styles was traceable to my strong desire to master chiaroscuro as well as perspective and proportion and their interrelations.
In the beginning, my palette was not in order. My brushes were rarely washed. My application of colour on canvas used to be bright, thick and fresh. Generally, I used a palette-knife. After filling up the canvas I would draw the outline in black. At the time I was not aware of such a thing as history of art. Nor were any opportunities for the study of art in theory or practice outside the classroom. There was only one art magazine, ‘The Studio, London,’ where some black and white reproductions of old masters used to appear. I was also ignorant of the different schools of thought, ‘the isms’ didn’t mean a thing to me. So, untouched by abstract theories and concepts, I would work furiously involved in my own vision. In other words, what guided me was, not my intellect but my intuition.
In the second year, school teaching comprised still-life’s, portraiture, antique studies, perspective, etc. I passed my second year, standing fifth in order of merit. Then I entered the third year. The subjects taught now were life-study, anatomy, composition and portraiture.
My class teacher was Mr. Nagarkar. Generally my works were liked by Mr. C.R. Gerard, the Director of Sir J.J. School of Art, who was also a practising artist. His style of work was impressionistic. I did a fairly large number of landscapes and participated in many exhibitions held in Bombay (Bombay Art Society), Simla, Poona and Calcutta (Academy of Fine Arts). Again I started with great enthusiasm for portraits. I had developed an interest in and regularly practiced still-lifes, composition and landscapes. In those days it was compulsory for students of Indian art to copy Moghul and Rajput miniatures. It was the sort of regimen which students resented, because it was considered laborious and waste of time and energy. But for me, the exercise proved a boon in disguise. For, at a later date, when I had to work on contemporary Indian subjects my groundings in Moghul and Rajput techniques were a big help. To broaden my vision, I would go through the reproductions of Japanese colour prints or reproductions of European masterpieces wherever and whenever they were available.
By now my works were being selected and were getting some prizes. This was a great impetus to me. My figurative compositions were in the ‘Indian style’. What I adopted was not a wash technique or opaque or miniature style. I followed tradition simply to draw figures and to fill up space with colour, sometimes bright, sometimes not so bright. If colour compositions seemed to be harsh, I would wash a complete picture and refill it with colours only, with transparent and not opaque colours, till the tones came up to my expectations. Finally I would give the composition a black outline. Many a time did I borrow drawing and colours from the Ajanta frescoes with the emphasis on the flat treatment, avoiding perspective. When I was in the third year, my work was displayed once a month, along with that of others, for scrutiny by Mr. Gerard, who generally said nice things about me.
For us at the J.J. School of Art, Saturdays and Sundays were holidays. Then I would work in my house as still-life, landscapes etc. I would go out of town to paint landscapes with a view to strengthening my palette and composition, by developing tones and space values by acquiring mastery over the medium i.e. water and oil colours and by assimilating the rudimentary principles of the pictorial art. Nature study, observation of figures and analysis of atmospheric effects gave me self-confidence. My landscapes were in both styles, i.e. flat treatment in bright colours as well as in soft grays. But Iavoided perspective. I used light and strong shadows wherever they helped me in improving composition. My portraits also were in both styles-the Western style academic and the purely Indian style. To me the academic and the Indian styles mean as follows: When I paint in academic style I study life in the round for portrayal, now in black and white now in colour softly treated, now in bold overtones with broad patches, giving contrast of light and shade. But in Indian style, I am concerned only with flat treatment that is with bright, decorative colours. Naturally I take advantage of costumes while building up a composition.
Even as a student, I used to exhibit my paintings in group shows and one-man shows. I was encouraged by the acclaim I received from critics. I had won many prizes at these as well as at the art school exhibitions.
My work, at home and outside as well as in the school of art, won graciously awarded prices. The prices being low, I did not earn much from the sale of my still-lifes and landscapes. But I was happy that there were buyers at all. I would submit the works I did outside the class to Mr. Gerard for his evaluation and criticism. These would serve as guidelines for my subsequent works. Thus I acquired great confidence in my compositions. Gradually I started a dialogue with my own art. My entire background was my work alone. When I was in the 4th year, Mr. R.V. Leyden started a series of lectures on the history of art outside the class, twice a week, on his own initiative and for his own pleasure as labour of love. He used to lecture with slides not only on European, but on Indian art also. I regularly attended these lectures along with a dozen other students. Thus began my early exposure to the world art. In the 4th year I received the Dolly Cursetjee second prize as well as the School of Art scholarship which is given generally for mural compositions. At the same time I won prizes at the Bombay Art Society’s annual exhibitions and shows held at Poona, Simla and other centres. The prizes of these exhibitions were great morale-boosters for me, and I could work with greater and greater enthusiasm. My works were couched in different styles and varied techniques. Critics didn’t like this eclecticism which they dismissed as mere versatility. At the end of the 5th and final year, I stood first in the exam and received the Mayo scholarship for murals. In the mural class, I had to study such Indian miniature schools as Kangra, Pahadi, Mughul, etc. Again I got the Dolley Cursetjee prize, this time as the first prize. Those who got this covetable prize were given the Fellowship of the school and were assigned to teach at the same institution.
Around this period, there used to be a healthy feud between Bombay and Calcutta art schools. Each school was rejecting the other as ‘Western’ at the same time proclaiming itself Indian. Actually both followed the European as well as Indian traditions and techniques. I didn’t restrict myself to traditional art only. I deviated from it according to my own intuitive judgement. The results were fortunately quite pleasing not only for me personally but for others too. I not only exhibited my works but brought out two portfolios, containing my works under two heads: (1) Forty Drawings by P.T. Reddy and (2) ‘Drawing, Painting and Sculptures by P.T.’ Most of the critics and a large section of the press strengthened my convictions by acclaiming my efforts with warmth and spontaneity. They greeted me as a brilliant and gifted artist of India. Some of them even went to the extent of recognising me as the ‘Father of Modern Indian Art’. The Indian language press was however critical of me. The critic’s writing found me too radical, because I had deviated from traditional art. They dubbed my work as a black cat in a charcoal bag in a dark chamber. Well, whatever the press might have said, I won many awards and gold medals. Lord Lumley, the Governor of Bombay, honoured me by inviting me to his residence to draw the portraits of his family members and of himself.
During 1939 and 1942, I did a number of drawings, mostly nudes from cheap, hired models from the bazaar. I also did a lot of sketching on the seafront and in the street. Some of these drawing were successfully brought out in the form of a portfolio, as mentioned earlier.
In 1940, when Amrita Sher-Gill arrived on the Bombay art scene and secured Bombay Art Society’s gold medal of the year, a controversy started in the context of modern art. It set me thinking. I began to ask myself whether I should form a group of like-minded artists. My own answer - ‘yes’. As a result, four young artists of Bombay joined me to form a group in 1941. We named it ‘the contemporary group of painters’. They were: Majeed, M.A. Bhople, Baptista, M.Y.Kulkarni and myself. We were branded together as ‘young turks’. But our programmes progressed successfully. We had our first exhibition in 1941.
Then came the Quit India movement of 1942. Though my sole interest my sole interest was in art, I could not resist the compulsions and circumstance of the freedom struggle. In fact my reaction to the Swadesi movement was so strong that one fine morning I returned the gold-medals and the prizes I had won from the Sir J.J. School of Art and resigned my Fellowship. My well-wishers thought I acted unwisely and emotionally. This made all my European friends and admires, including my director Mr.Gerard, very critical of me. I was now forced to depend on commercial institutions for my livelihood. My struggle for the daily bread left me no time to devote to what I considered art. The Quit India Movement thus, at any rate in my case, put me out of touch with my profession for about a decade. Though the resultant effect for me was grave, I had no regrets for what I had done, as my conscience was clear. It was in tune with my personal philosophy. I am ever ready to face challenges, however serious these may be. I don’t compromise nor do I surrender. I do whatever I deem fit.
During the Quit India Movement our art group disintegrated. I held three one-man shows after 1942. The first consisted purely of nudes and drawings, the second of compositions and the third of still-life’s and landscapes. After working in different capacities in films, press and publicity firms, I joined the Lahore Studios as art director. As providence had it, I had to return to Bombay within a short time leaving all my belongings in Lahore. I was one of the millions of victims of the partition.
On reaching Bombay I learnt that all my paintings had been destroyed by some miscreants who happened to occupy my room. In such unhappy circumstance, I returned to my home state Hyderabad in February, in 1946. There too I faced a challenging situation. I was branded as rebellious and emotional. My merits in art couldn’t get me a job in the art institutions of Hyderabad. This made me realise thatI ought not to depend on art for my survival. I advised myself to be sensible and practical and settle for a mundane life devoting my spare time to art. With this aim in view I started a furnishing company by the name of Kalpana Industries, in Hyderabad. It was then that I met a girl at the Reddy Hostel, by name Yasoda. I married her on the 9th of May, 1947. We had a son, but unfortunately he survived only for a few months. My wife continued her studies after marriage. She also worked as a part time announcer at All India Radio. She completed her Master’s degree in 1955 and joined Osmania University as a lecturer in Telugu. By that time my business had been well established. Hence I could resume my artistic career, leaving behind the preceding and empty decade of my life.
One fine morning in 1955, collecting all my scattered paintings which I dusted, framed and labelled, I sent them to the Hyderabad Art Society’s All India Competition, where I won three awards. This gave me strength and legitimatised my re-entry into the art field. Some of the big bosses of Hyderabad who were at the controls in the art field didn’t like my return. They received me with sarcastic comments. They asked ‘who woke up this sleeping tiger?’ But my friends and the press welcomed me back with enthusiasm.
After a lapse of 12 years - in 1956 - I again held my one man show at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay. While I was in Bombay I visited almost all the art institutions, galleries, and studios of working artists, with a view to acquaint myself with the state of art. During the show, I could meet some of my contemporaries as well as some young, budding and progressive artists. I was happy to learn that from 1942 onwards a group of contemporary artists had been active, holding their shows and discussions frequently at the Artists’ Aid Centre. Members of that group have since become very famous. Among them are Mohan Samant, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, K.K.Hebbar, D.G.Kulkarni, M.F.Hussain, V.S.Gaitonde, N.S. Bendre and K.H.Ara.
I held my one man shows in almost all important cities of India. My travels gave me an insight into the contemporary art situation in India. I could see a total change in the concept and content of Indian art in 1956, compared to 1942. This was due to improve facilities, such as the cultural exchanges providing wider contacts, the establishment of art museums and akademies, the numerous private art galleries etc. It was pleasant to see that the younger artists could devote their full time to art without the necessity of having to worry about their financial prospects. The institution of the Government of India’s scholarships for outstanding young artists had been a happy development. Also I sensed a greater awareness of modern art in the ‘50s than in the’ 40s. I realised that I had necessarily to improve radically my art techniques to be able to cope with the fast-changing trends in modern art. My faith in my own drawing and brushwork enabled me to start working furiously with a sense of dedication to narrow the stylistic gap between the ‘40s and the ‘50s. I even wanted to overtake my colleagues and stay ahead. In 1967 I closed my furnishing workshop and as my financial position was reasonably secure, I had no difficulty in reverting to the challenges of my artistic career.
I painted many canvases varying from one genre to another, from one ‘ism’ to another, just to have a firm grip on form, space and colour and in order to broaden my outlook and vision. I don’t think there was any style or medium left untouched by me at the time. I had to race with the younger and more energetic artists in order to assert my relevance to the modern movement. Within a short period I established myself, as the result of my intense quest, hard work and constant exposure to modernity, through exhibitions and discussions. Side by side with my self-education, I would hold regular displays of my own work and participate in group shows and competitions.
From 1955 to 1960, I worked mostly on figurative compositions and a few landscapes, drawn on the spot and finished in the studio. Technically, if I were to be self-critical, these works look mannered and derivative based on impressionist and post-impressionist styles. There was not much change in my palette and technique and in the layout of my compositions. I did feel that the works which I had done up to 1945 were more or less visionary representations with compositional layouts and bright colours. They were fairly good works and not in any way inferior to what I had painted between 1935 to 1945.
The new works I have done are according to my assessment as good as those as those done in 1945. From 1960 to 1965 I dabbled in distortions and abstractions, though I also did a few figurative and suggestively communicative works. My interest was in abstraction based on nature. That is, nature reduced to the barest essentials comprising recognisable though suggestive forms vibrant with colour and tone, imparting rhythms and mobility to the whole composition. My faith in ultimate significance of form and in the solidity of compositional structure remained as firm as ever before. The works generally were figurative, were bold forms, distorted here constructive there, and now diffused without any damage to the sensitivity of colour harmony, to the constructive cadences inherent in the figure and to the evocative nuance characteristic of nature. But there was no realism. If anything, the resultant abstractions and distortions were, almost surrealistic. But the total impact of the picture was predictable. The palette was always bright, the composition essentially constructive, the patterns being regular and geometrical, though gently distorted. The tones did not interest me as much as the suggestive lines. Such was the communicative form evolved. Through it, the eye could move from one point to another so that focus on the totality of the composition was sustained.
From 1965 to 1970, I did a fairly large number of sculptures in wood and abstract paintings. The latter were based on Indian miniatures: essays in suggestive, distorted and constructive realism, the themes being the union of man and woman, ‘Kiss’, ‘Kamasutra’ Telangana Agitation’, Moon-landing’ etc.
Meanwhile I became an active member of the Andhra Pradesh and Central Lalit Kala Akademies. By my efforts a graphic workshop was established for the use of the interested artists in Hyderabad. Availing myself of this opportunity I could work alongside artists on number of lithos, etchings, intaglios etc. I worked on the subject of ‘Kiss’ and produced a few monographs on it. I have also done some litho prints, depicting various Kamasutras, due for publication under the title, ‘Sringara Ratnakara’. The pure drawing illustrating the Kamasutras theme inspired me to paint many works in a simplified manner on the basis of the Indian miniatures. In 1968-69 theeconomic imbalance, the political unrest and its effects on the lifestyle of the common man involved me deeply in the art with a socio-economic thrust. I however avoided the direct documentary approach. My method and manner were suggestive without prejudice to aesthetic norms. This led me to the search for an introduction of symbols. During this time, my wife who was working for her doctorate on the subject of ‘Harivamsa’ requested me for some illustrations on the theme. Thus I did a few mythological illustrations with intricate symbolism as the base to suit her work. These mythological stories, condensed in mystical forms and signs have widened my vision and guided me to develop my own symbols to suit the modern subjects. In 1970, thrilled by the important event of man’s landing on the moon, I painted a series of pictures on the subject. As sequel to this series emerged the conceptualisation and visualisation of the cosmic powers in terms of the age-old beliefs which led me to work on such baffling subjects as Prakruti, Purusha, Creation etc.
In 1972, I had the opportunity of visiting Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the Government of India’s Cultural programme. I took full advantage of this visit by touring, on my own, other cities such as London, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt. This visit made an impact on me and sharpened my perceptions. On my return, I recorded the reminiscence of national leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in my own Indian style and with a new vision and technique, which critics named tantric art. Such comments stimulated my thinking and made me go deep into the origin and development of these forms. My study and research resulted in paintings which were primarily expositions of such cults as ‘Siva’. ‘Harihara’ ‘Vaishnavi’, ‘Katyayan’. ‘Brahmi’ and ‘Chamundeswari’. In 1974 I started working on sculptures in wood in typical tantric style with the Farley Dickinson University U.S.A., through the courtesy of Mr. Saul Rosen of New Jersey whom I had met earlier in India by chance. I utilised this opportunity to visit many important art museums and galleries in America. My two visits abroad have given me the satisfaction of having personally viewed the original works of many old and modern masters of the world. By now I had a fairly clear image of the evolution and development of the norms, values and traditional of Europe and America.
Mr. Saul Rosen, a New Jersey-based businessman visited my exhibition in 1969 at the Jehanghir Art Gallery, Bombay. He acquired a few of my paintings in the political series. We met in Delhi again in 1970, when he purchased some of my works with the theme of moon-landing. Later in 1927 her revisited India and made it a point to come to my exhibition where he bought the paintings in small format, rich in symbolism. Mr. Rosen’s fourth visit to India was in 1974. He now acquired some more of my works on different themes. Also he invited me and my wife to visit the U.S.A. so that I might see, move around the country, meet artists, visit museums and galleries and get the feel of the art scene there. He was kind enough to send me two return tickets in 1976 for my visit to the U.S.A. along with my wife. While in America, I did a number of water colours, some of which I presented to him. He bought some of course. Indeed Mr. Rosen is a splendid person apart from being a very perceptive connoisseur of art. He has shown immense interest in me and in my work. I am indebted to him for his various acts of overwhelming generosity. I am particularly grateful to him for his warm hospitality. I have not kept any account of my works in his collection. But I am sure he has the maximum number and if he so desires, he can easily set up a gallery devoted wholly to my paintings.
My visit to the U.S.A. was a great success. I could visit a number of museums and art galleries. I could learn much from that trip. My visit to the exhibit, entitled ‘Two Decades of American Art’ was a revelation to me. The years covered were from 1945 to 1965. The exhibits included works not only by those artists who originally belonged to the U.S.A. but also those artists who migrated there during the Second World War, from France and other European countries and who have since revitalised the modern movement the world over by offering new insights, new perceptions and new angles of vision. My visit to the U.S. museums, galleries and exhibitions predictably led to my own discovering of a new world of images, techniques, insights, perceptions and sensations.
Since April, 1978 I have been working on the tantric art for which the Department of Culture, Government of India has awarded me a fellowship for two years.
During the period 1967-68, I did abstractions based on Indian miniatures which represent rhythmic designs in bold and bright colours. The figures are gently distorted with the result that the whole pictures becomes a play of colours, designs and tones sustained by subdued expressiveness.
As for the technique, all these works are based on visionary experiences and suggestive figuration -- the content being communicative, one detail is interwoven into another. My palette at the time remained unchanged with the same emphasis on bright colours and broad masses of tones. Generally speaking there has not been much change in technique over the years. Whatever change one notices relate to subjects and methods of communication.
My sculptures dealt with forms which had a positive as well as a negative thrust. From 1970 to 1975 I once again worked in wood. Also, I worked on the tantric motifs symbolically but without literary overtones. The stress was on the visual interpretation of the esoteric tantric lore as I understood it. I did a number of drawings on the ‘Union’. I also did lithos and black and white sketches.
During these five years, I continued to do sculptures of negative and positive forms and paint tantric themes. My work done during this period was conspicuous for its vitality of line and intensity of colour. I also did a number of tantric drawing delineating symbolically mythological episodes.
From 1975 to 1980, I concentrated on purely symbolic forms in colour and tone. The design was impeccable and object depicted was identifiable. The content was different but the palette and style remained the same.
Now, when I look at my works done during the period from 1935 to 1980 the diversity of styles and subjects amazes me. There are objective compositions, nature studies, subjective interpretations, still-life, portraits, comments on the human situation, assessments of achievements by the human spirit, political parodies etc. My surroundings are after all my own projections and naturally they influence my vision, my responses to the art trends, my commitment to my faith, my urge to paint or sculpt; that is my passion for self-expression and my involvement in my own quest for the truth.
Practically I have beenone with my surroundings, much as my pictures is. I cannot escape my vision, nor can I remain unaffected by what goes on around me. In fact here I have new material for my work. But on the technical plane, I am a professional. I try to tackle the canvas or wood or metal on the basis of whatever knowledge and expertise I have. My intention is to create a work of art which is intellectually honest and technically sound. I don’t think I can ever paint a pretty picture. I find myself imbued with an intense urge to create as uncompromisingly as I can. If one looks at my works objectively - the paintings or engravings - one can see that they all have a professional touch. They are technically strong. What about my sculptures? In these I proceed from the realistic to the symbolic, but the language is my own, based on my vision, experience and sensibility. I have never tried to repeat myself or follow a success formula. Success or failure means nothing to me. I proceed from one step to the next irrespective of the results I achieve. My works represent an instinctively performed odyssey from one area to another. Naturally there is an organic unity that binds them all. The consistency is my work is, I believe, due to my technical skill, visual perceptiveness and professional maturity. The subjects may come and go. But I deal with them in my own style which remains basically unchanged since 1935. My visual vocabulary may have become larger and richer since 1935 when I first became aware of it. But there is and there can be no change in my idiom which is rooted in my character and personality.
I might not have gained much economically from my profession. But I take my commercial failure in good spirit. My economic gains might have made me stale and static. My work might have become too stylised to achieve an identity or to strike an instant rapport with the spectator. I am said to be versatile. To be frank, I never think of versatility or virtuosity when I approach the canvas. No, Never. My visual reactions naturally vary from subject to subject, from situation to situation. So there are different themes which demand different techniques.
Diversity in technique has nothing to do with one’s aesthetic sensibility. I may or may not be versatile. But aesthetically and professionally I am fiercely inflexible and uncompromising. I have no use for glamour, or gimmicks. My handling of colour, form, tone, movement, balance and space thus may be determined by the particular subject I paint or sculpt. But it is my own. It is not derivative or dishonest.
Visual experience means equation with environment. One must have the mental faculty to visualise and draw a philosophic theory or a mythological legend. That is: One must have the imagination to convert nature into fiction or fantasy. My work is based on my visual perceptions which relate to my environment, whatever be the subjects I paint or sculpt. I don’t consciously make an attempt to see that there is harmony between form and content. My concern is with the technical and aesthetic of form and not with the narrative or descriptive aspects of content. If form is sound, content takes good care of itself.
My present interest is in severe simplification. I want to bring art as close to nature as possible but without losing my intellectual integrity and aesthetic sensibility. My ambition is to establish a gallery of modern art and a sculpture garden in Hyderabad.
For the past few years, I have been thinking of putting together my works done over a period of 40 years. This has been now made possible through the efforts of an organisation called the A.P. Council of Artists to which I am deeply obliged.
We have a daughter of 18. She also has an aptitude for art and has been painting since her third year. She is now a B.Sc., student. But still she finds time to paint on occasion. She has a keen perception of colour and form and a sense of communication. My wife and I have high hopes and great expectations of her. We are sure she will be able to preserve all my works and collections now housed in the gallery which is part of our residence. My wife and I pray to God to give my daughter the necessary strength, courage and judgment so that she looks after her priceless patrimony lovingly for the benefit of the public now and later. I paint because I must. I am neither lured by reward nor scared by retribution.
Here briefly I outline my working schedule. Generally I get into my studio by six a.m. and work for six to eight hours a day. Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I just go on judging my own works. When I approach the canvas, I have no preconceived ideas of what to paint and how. I go with a fresh and open mind.
I throw my colours about on the canvas. They begin to transform themselves into visual rhythms. Not always, of course. But unfailingly they give me pleasure. Once I execute a work, I forget about it - till I later return to it only to examine it critically.
This book is a documentation of my life. The works reproduced here represent only a fraction of the total body of my work. I have gone through all the tortuous phases like any other professional. So I know what is what in the world of art. No new-fangled ism can intimidate me. I can turn it upside down and asses its quality.
The art of today is diversified, controversial and arbitrary, when we begin to judge it. It is the case not only with India but with the rest of the world, because the conventional concepts of art are being thoroughly examined. In some countries art today has a political or, socio- economic connotation while in others idealism, skill inspire it and mould its basic forms. In most countries, however, there is freedom of expression for the creative artist. Art since 1945 particularly in the U.S.A. and in Europe has gone through radical constant experimentation, has thrown up new revolutionary concepts whose impact on the vision and sensibility of the artist over the years has revolutionary concepts whose impact on the vision and sensibility of the artist over the years has been overpowering.
I paint for pleasure. But one cannot confine one’s pleasure to oneself. One must share it with others. So my pleasure should be the pleasure of others too. The development of my professional skill is the result of a combination of factors such as my own imagination, my faith in tradition, my academic background, the impact of my circumstance and surrounding on my sensitive mind, my travels abroad, my study of the art history of the world and my dialogue with the public. These have enabled me to evolve a personal idiom and enrich the art of my country. I cannot easily brush aside these realities though one can exaggerate their importance. Indirectly and subconsciously I continue to be guided if not conditioned by these. They attune my mind to the creative expression of the right sort. I continue toapproach art in humility and with the sense of inadequacy with which a young pupil takes first lessons in grammar, alphabet, syntax and vocabulary.
As a humble being, I am no doubt an integral part of society, where I belong. I have my rights and responsibilities and my own involvement in my daily round. I have my obligations towards my fellow human beings and my professional colleagues. But, at the same time, my own vision and my creative processes are my chief concerns. I don’t know whether society can or cannot give a fair deal to the artist. But I do have complaint against it. I ask: Why does it not take a serious interest in the problems and predicaments of artists? Perhaps for a valid reason. But I cannot excuse it.
I have my own views on contemporary Indian art. What precisely is it? Is it a mere repetition of our traditional art which itself in its day was but a representation of life. Today, as we all know, life is more complex and sophisticated because of emergence of science, industry and technology as the new gods. Thus new images and new impulses set the tone of our artistic endeavours. But the scene remains perennially inviting. The city and the village were once too far apart. Now the distance between the two has been considerably reduced. But still the distance is there not only in India but in the other countries too. The artist must come out of his ivory tower and identify himself totally with the scene where he belongs whether it is rural or urban.
Throughout the country almost all the states have established Lalit Kala Akademies, with minor differences in their constitutions. The official art policies at the Centre and in the States have been positive and dynamic. The Universities also have been taking vigorous steps to establish schools of art, faculties of arts etc. with a view to encourage budding artists. Senior and well established artists receive official patronage in various forms such as pensions, fellowships and scholarships. There is an even geographical distribution of serious artists throughout the country. Their involvement in the modern movement is deep enough and their efforts to enrich contemporary Indian art are earnest and energetic. Their experiments and achievements are as significant as those of their confrers abroad. Their guest for a genuinely national ethos is laudable.
We have a magnificent National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, which is almost unique in display, elegance and neatness. It collects, displays and documents works done since the beginning of the 20th century. Here, if I may be permitted to digress, the Director, Dr. Sihare, has spared no effort to give us as good a gallery as the best in Europe or America.
My achievement and failure provide the foundation for my future efforts. I welcome informed criticism which helps me in voyage of self-discovery. Critics and fads and without a sense of commitment or involvement can make little contribution to the growth and development of art in any country. Their assessments should be based not on their personal prejudices and preferences but on universally accepted aesthetic norms and standards. Serious criticism is as important as serious art. Superficial or slanted criticism is self-negating.
Visual arts are pictorially communicative. But they need not necessarily tell a story, portray a person or describe a scene. The onlooker has a responsibility. He has to train his eye. He should be able to visualise the whole cosmos through the medium of a small drop of water. But he dismisses art as blah-blah. To a painting his reaction is philistine. He says ‘This is meaningless. It could have been painted better by a donkey with its tail’ etc. Such comments humiliate the artist. They amount to blasphemy. The general public which is thoroughly philistine is unware of the creative processes inherent in the cosmos itself. The creative mind rejects the bald truth to which it adds a new depth, dynamism and dimension depending on the quality of one’s vision and perception. Truth stated as truth is flat. It has to be restated with empathy and elan. Today’s art is not difficult to comprehend provided the onlooker has an open and receptive mind. Art is a visual language. It can be properly understood only when one has an awareness of its ever changing concepts, trends and attitudes according to the compulsions of a particular situation.
When an artist has imagination, insight and intuition, he can interpret the various concepts and isms convincingly. He can achieve a good deal of success in narrative or representational art. But success is difficult in non-representational art because there are no norms for it. It is a case of hit or miss. There are no identifiable ingredients in non-representational art. The artist has to create a world of his own on the canvas. No doubt he starts with a motif. But as he proceeds, the volume, the depth, the colour, balance and texture, the spatial planes and the linear harmony he achieves, are purely subjective. Non- representational art is simplicity itself. Nature is stripped naked as it were. The simplification is so austere and onwards - bound that the ignorant onlooker doesn’t find what he seeks. But he has to keep trying. There is no short cut. His search must continue. His search is for ever because the creative mind always stay ahead for him. Art appreciation is meaningful and purposeful only when the artist and the public communicate on the same wavelengths.
Most of us speak of art for art’s sake. To me what is true is that art is a visual reflection of prevailing culture. If we deviate from its basic postulates, art becomes, to my mind, mere jugglery, mere mumbo-jumbo which makes no sense, whatever ephemeral value, it may have. The artist’s first impulses is to play with symbols, colours, textures and planes for their own sake. But he must resist the temptation and try to evolve something personal and durable, something beyond mere virtuosity which is soulless. This does not mean that he need not communicate. He can but in a language that comes to him naturally and spontaneously. Let him distract, exaggerate, abstract, do whatever he likes. But let whatever he does be part of himself.
Essay from "40 years of P.T. Reddy’s Art" edited by A. S. Raman published by Andhra Pradesh council of artists, Hyderabad in 1982.