Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Ambassador of simplicity!

“He inspired me to notice the shades and patterns in a leaf or flower, He brought in me the habit to observe the details of a situation and he made me realize the fun in playing with colors. I would like to believe that two days back (31-Aug), when he passed away, his soul; like fresh wet paint from a brush, merged into everything that is colorful in this world. My dear Painting teacher (P P Karanth) I will find you in everything that is colorful!!!”

During our 10th grade holidays my friend Vasu and I joined an art school in Mangalore. I thought it was cool...It was fun and we were asked to do a lot of pencil sketching. But when my mother noticed my interest and improvements in art, she suggested I learn from my uncle (Father’s cousin). Surprisingly I had no recollections of having even met him before that day. Whenever my mother met him and told him about my interest in painting, he would say – “No, I don’t really teach many students these days.” But my mother would never give up. She would remind him of me every time she met him. So then finally he agreed to have me as his student.

There, I walked in for the first time, to his abode that looked so peaceful from the very first look. A small gate opened its way towards a small but pretty house with Mangalore tile roof and surrounded by trees and flowering plants. The doors and windows were wide open as though there was constant exchange of creativity; between man and nature. There he was in white shirt and doti looking as tranquil as ever.

The first thing I noticed inside the house was a wooden separator between the main hall and the bedroom. It was painted; a tall figure in agony, turning the face away from a horrible sight in the sky. Two kids; a girl and boy pointing to the sky as they follow the tall figure…they pointed towards the sky; where few birds; perhaps cranes, with their beak, broke painting brushes. Every time I sat in front of that painting and created my own, I derived new meanings from it but I never asked him what it meant. No one should I believe, must ask an artist what his work means. Not only is it an insult but also a loss of primary intent of allowing the transfer of thoughts through an old age wireless technology. One relates to a piece of art as one sees in them, their experiences and not by the curiosity of knowing the intent of the artist while drawing or writing that; this unfortunately many audience do not realize.

I had few co-students who were younger to me by age but far superior in the subject. But sir gave me my time to learn. In the art school where I studied first, there was a structured approach but here there was none. He asked me what I wanted to start with. I had no clue, so he suggested miniature painting. He just asked me to pick one painting from a book and asked me to draw and paint. Even though I struggled to understand his teaching methods in the beginning, everything fell in place as we proceeded. I learnt that day that teaching had no rules, it had no structure, it was just a sharing of experiences and one learns from their own experiences. He would suggest I go look at leaves before I drew them. He would pull out some books and simply talk about any painting and the qualities of them and so began a great friendship between us to discuss and learn not just art but, philosophy, mythology and many stories. If he was reading some book, he would discuss it with me, tell stories from it.

He was very witty and would involve every student in a good joke and we all lived there a few hours to share his life and learn from him the joy of living. His students were kids of age 10 to old men of age 65. Shenoy mama as he was called was the oldest who would travel from udupi to study from him. Several other art teachers would come here to learn from him and enhance their skills from the great artist.

I would leave college at around 4 PM, reach there by 4:30PM and then paint till 6:30 or 7:00 PM. In those few hours I found a lot of peace. He would offer us some raagi malt and biscuits or rusks. And remember he never took a fee from his students. Everything was for free. His art was not for sale, nor was his knowledge that many would otherwise have cashed on. He painted the interiors of Ramakrishna ashram in Hyderabad and Chennai with mythological stories.

Sir was always very frank in his opinion, he would never have sugar coated words to admire someone falsely and most of the time it was great fun to hear his comments on any subject.

When I joined engineering, I could not continue my classes daily so I started visiting him during my semester holidays. This time was very enjoyable with paintings and talks. I would spend all morning there or all evenings there painting. After all these years if I look back, I never recollect him teaching me how to paint; it feels as though I learnt it myself …just like that; that was how great a teacher he was. He never restricted my creativity by saying – Do it this way but he would just allow me to do what I wanted. One thing he mentioned very clearly is when you recreate a painting of someone, don’t just copy it, use a color scheme of yourself or just change it in some way to bring your creativity into it. And then I would pick my color scheme or add some images of my own.

When I moved to Bangalore, I lost touch but during visits to Mangalore I would go to him and show him my paintings. He would scold me for doing only few paintings and would urge me to fill the book. He would say stories from the book he recently read. The last time I met him was at one of the functions at a relative’s place last year. I tried visiting him during his illness but due to some emergency could not make it and only after I left did I realize that he was just there in the neighboring house, at his sister’s place.

When I heard of him being in the ICU, I immediately booked the tickets to travel to my hometown to visit him, but unfortunately even before I could board my bus here, he passed away.

For a man who had sacrificed his life for art, his family involved few relatives and several students in whom he has planted his skills, his creativity and his thoughts. And as I wrote earlier, he lives on, in his paintings, in every painting of his student and then their students and so on and on….forever.