S G Vasudev's involvement in the artists' village outside Chennai called Cholamandal and his life in Bangalore, in his home state of Karnataka, have given him a firmly rooted style which has developed independently of the commerce-driven patterns of artistic endeavour in India's metropolitan centres. He has worked steadily over the years, creating a distinct style in his work and in the way he chooses to live his life.
After completing his art education in Chennai, Vasudev found himself living at Cholamandal, the artists' village outside Chennai. "In those days, it was difficult to earn a living through painting and sculpture" reminisces Vasudev. "So we formed a cooperative without any political ideology. Ten acres of land was bought at various stages, divided and sold to artists. We had common facilities like studios, guest houses and a permanent art gallery to exhibit our work. Batik, ceramics and terracotta brought in the income we needed to maintain ourselves."
Like most artists Vasudev started painting landscapes and still life initially. Most of his teachers shunned the idea of British curriculum and encouraged Vasudev to think differently. Influenced by folk and tribal art, Vasudev's works immediately connected to deep rooted traditions of India and yet they have a contemporary look about them. In his opinion "Warli and Madhubani art is contemporary and timeless."
From the landscapes Vasudev evolved a new technique and started painting the 'Fantasy' series, where all the elements like water, mountain, sun, moon, stars and trees, found a place on his canvas.
His paintings have deep rooted connections with nature, particularly with trees. As he explains, "My father was an agriculturist. In my childhood I spent quite a few years on agricultural land. Perhaps this is what inspired me to a feeling for the earth that was quite natural to me. It was not something that I had to think about, it was already there within me, a deep reverence for the earth. I was always fascinated by landscapes. In fact landscapes are a strong element in quite a few artists of Karnataka, many of whom have all done very good landscapes. (K Venkatappa, K K Hebbar etc)." The artists that Vasudev mentions were legends in their time. They made very good use of western techniques and media to create picture of an idyllic countryside.
In the early 90s, after Vasudev moved to Bangalore, his association with environmental activists, made him think about deforestation and other ecological cencerns. He painted a series and called it "Earthscapes" where the tree is felled by people and people get affected by it. In fact in the 90's he did a series of portraits in a surreal style. When ITC Hotels had an art camp in Mangalore, Vasudev was one of the artists invited to make a painting. He made a portrait with his trademark bold lines and his painting was replete with elements of nature. His early paintings of trees were done with a bold impasto technique, sensuously exploring the texture of the barks and the leaves. Gradually, however, Vasudev found a way of creating the same effect using his brush strokes on the surface with the most delicate of strokes that were almost feathery to create a rippling impression. This technique is evident in this painting.
"Line is very important to me and I enjoy drawing most. Colour fascinates me and I give importance to every colour by using one major colour in each painting. KCS Paniker, my teacher, used to talk about the "creative removal of colours", meaning that it is easy to work with many colours but to work with a few giving importance to one is difficult. I share this thought. "
Working primarily with oils on canvas, he also works with ink on paper, water colours and through a series of drawings and copper relief works. Vasudev has been working closely with a master weaver to create tapestries in silk featuring the different themes he has been exploring over the years.
Even though Vasudev's Vrikshas, or Vrukshas, or Tree of Life for us have dominated the major part of his artistic oeuvre, he has in fact moved away from them to create his ’Earthscapes‘ and ’Maithuna‘ figures, particularly in his black and white drawings, his ’Theatre of Life‘ series, where figures appear on a stage, and the more recent images of his ’Tsunami woman‘ that he calls "She" tossed in a chaos of marine and tree-like forms that swirl around her.
"I see life more positively. I want my work to be aesthetically beautiful like all our traditional arts. Whenever our creative artists and performers wanted to depict anger, wars, death and destruction, they have done it very beautifully. I believe in it. There is a gentle way to give expression to all the chaos of urban life."