Born in Karkala, a small town in Karnataka, Vasudeo Kamath grew up in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai. As a child, he used to draw lines on the walls and floors of his house, representing trains running on tracks. These left-handed doodles were the first expressions of the artist in him. Six decades later, Kamath — who then studied at Mumbai’s JJ School of Art — is known for his descriptive and conceptual paintings, based on mythological and historical subjects. He is the President of the Bombay Art Society and the Art Society of India, and still practises the rare art of creating portraits from actual sittings.
The 28 paintings that form his ‘Ramayana’ series were on display at Delhi’s IGNCA recently. Excerpts from an interview with Kamath on the sidelines of the exhibition:
Which version of the epic have you based your series on?
I have not read complete Valmiki’s Ramayana or the Ramayana by Kakbhushundi, nor have I gone through Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas in a thorough manner. To study huge volumes of these epics are beyond my reach as a painter. Whatever little I have studied is as a reference. In fact, whatever I gather of the epic is owing to watching the Ramlila performances during childhood and hearing GD Madgulkar’s Geet Ramayana. This inspired me to paint a series of painting on lord Rama.
So essentially your series is based on the virtues of Rama?
In depicting the episodes from the Ramayana, I have made all efforts to portray Rama as a human. Keeping miracles aside, I have focused on the common aspects of human life. A small squirrel in each of the works represents me as
You are known for creating artwork based on mythology. What’s next?
I have just finished a series of 21 works based on the Upanishads. But having said that, in interpreting mythology, my aim is not to create religious art but historical and cultural art. There is a myth in a faction of the art world that realistic and academic art is calendar art; it’s not. In fact, there are no calendars today — in the age of cellphones and laptops — so calendar art is not even relevant.
So what is the future of descriptive art in India?
I am not against any form of art prevalent in India today but at art fairs and all kinds of art events, the core simplistic and academic art of India should also get representation. My art is mostly conceptual and not descriptive. It is not based on anything I have seen before, it is my concept of how to represent an idea on a canvas.