Artist SG Vasudev: Retelling stories with collages

Shailaja Tripathi | Updated on May 05, 2021

A quiet place: SG Vasudev’s new body of work — Montage of Memories — was born during the lockdown   -  Mallikarjun Katakol

Octogenarian artist Vasudev sought to overcome pandemic-induced isolation with a series of experimental collages

* These collages came out of my drawings

* I am basically a storyteller — stories which one had heard over the years

* I started my art life as a caricaturist; my first caricature was that of Hardy, a comedian

* Perhaps this YouTube exposure resulted in these newer art works


Be it in eventful times or the mundaneness of life, in grim circumstances or hope, an artist finds inspiration anywhere. As the first wave of Covid-19 hit India in 2020, Bengaluru-based artist SG Vasudev — known for his paintings, drawings, copper reliefs and tapestries — went back to the medium of collages that he’d last worked with in the ’80s. An entirely new body of work — Montage of Memories — was born during the lockdown, and later exhibited at Gallery Sumukha in Bengaluru. Bits and pieces of paper from glossy magazines, newspaper articles, wedding invitations and his biography combined with Vasudev’s favourite medium of drawing to tell old stories anew.

A founder-member of the Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai, Vasudev is also known for his collaborations with poets, writers and film-makers. The octogenarian artist, who had major retrospective shows in 2019 at the NGMA Bengaluru and Mumbai, shares with BLink the process of working on collages.

Prayer, revisited: Vasudev’s new collages are largely experimental; Deity — collage on paper   -  Mallikarjun Katakol


Edited excerpts from the interview:

What kind of freedom did this medium of collages allow you?

These collages are quite experimental. They came out of my drawings. While I was doing drawings I found some good invitation cards that had some gold and silver designs on them. I thought, why not use them inside the drawings. It looked very nice, so I started using bits of designed paper and drew around them. It was exciting. I had done collages way back in the late ’80s. Some of them were selected for my retrospective shows at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Bengaluru and Mumbai but they had no drawings in them. They were collages with varied shapes, telling a story, mainly the “Tree of Life”.

The medium is as difficult as painting. First of all, one should conceive basic ideas and then use different kinds of designed papers to go with this idea. And while one is sticking these papers, layer by layer, one has to think of what one could do with drawings on them. It is very carefully thought of. One uses different coloured pens and liners to get the desired drawing effect on them.

What was your state of mind while doing this body of work?

Once I decided to do this kind of experimentation I freely did it. I was focused on maximum exploration of the medium and seeing good results. As I am a social person, I felt the lockdown period or period of isolation should be overcome somehow. A lot of ideas came from watching programmes on YouTube — interviews, music, dance, theatre, art and many more things which normally one would not watch. Perhaps this YouTube exposure resulted in these newer art works.

Could you connect this element of wit and humour in these works to your really early caricatures, some of which were published in newspapers?

I started my art life as a caricaturist. Even now many say that they can see this in my drawings even though I do not think so! I am basically a storyteller — stories which one had heard over the years. Recreating myths. My first caricature was that of Hardy, a comedian. When he died, it got published in one of the leading Kannada newspapers. David Low and RK Laxman — two of the greatest cartoonists — were big influences on me at the time.

What prompted you to tear pages from your own biography for collages?

While I was using papers from various magazines for my collages, I thought of using my own painted images from my early catalogues and books. I wanted to retell or recreate stories that have been told earlier. It was very interesting to create new stories from these old images.

It is interesting to note how drawing — one of your favourite mediums — has a palpable presence in your collages.

Collages are done by many famous artists. It is used as a medium by young aspiring art students. But my entry to this medium is through my drawings and I have not found many artists to be doing this. Drawing is my strength, as you know.

Before this exhibition, when did you last work with collages?

In the ’60s and ’70s, I was doing collages to design cover pages for various books by various authors, and, in the late ’80s, I worked on four collages on the theme of “Tree of Life” which was my favourite theme. After that I never thought of going back to this medium, surprisingly. It was only in 2020 that I thought of a possibility with it. I am very happy with how this body of work turned out.

Could you talk about the themes that you have revisited in this series? I see traces of your old themes in this series.

“Tree”, “Maithuna”, “Rhapsody” are the themes that I have revisited in this series. They have all taken different shapes and tell different stories. As an artist who believes in one’s own tradition I explore the themes in various forms and in various mediums. You have seen this in my drawings, paintings, copper reliefs and also in my tapestries but in many of the works I have let myself go beyond them. This has been a revelation for me and for the viewers too.

Shailaja Tripathi is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist

Published on May 05, 2021

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