Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mr.V.K.Iyer - Inspiration to all

Dear Friends,

I want to introduce you all to Mr.Vishwanath Iyer (V.K.Iyer), an artist who specialises in Tanjore painting. He is an Engineer by profession. He retired in 1988 as the Vice president from the Greaves group and spent a few years working for others as a consultant and advisor.

As a hobby in the year 2000 he learnt Tanjore Painting at the age of 72 which he still continues in his spare time.The hobby turned into a passion and he has done over 150 paintings of which over 100 are ganeshas that he has gifted to many. He also teaches Tanjore Painting through the internet and has a website He has helped over 300 students all over the world to learn this beautiful art through specially prepared lessons and interaction through e mail. I have also been one of his students. Mr Iyer lives in Chennai with his wife Kalpagam, son Shankar and his wife Lalitha. He has two grand daughters Nithya and Nandini.

Today I bring to you a closer look in to his life, his passion and how it all started. Thank you for patiently answering my questions Sir.

1. When did you first start painting?
My interest in Painting was from a very young age, Due to other preoccupation I did not concentrate on painting, but did a bit of caricature pencil work or so whenever I was bored.

2. What made you take up Tanjore as the main medium?
After my retirement in 1988 I spent a few years working for others as a consultant, advisor etc. This did not give me a break from work. So I decided to take up something that will give me satisfaction and at the same time a joy to work. Tanjore painting was always a joy to look at and appreciate the intricate gold and stone work, the figures and their moods. So I decided to try my hand at it.

3. What are the other mediums you have worked on?
I did not venture into other medium of art like oil, water colour, portrait etc as the time I spent on Tanjore art kept me otherwise busy.

4. What is your advice to new artists who want to learn or show interest in Tanjore?
Tanjore Art is a wonderful medium of expression of one’s creativity. Usually artists tend to copy existing paintings either drawing or tracing the pictures. Most teachers also do not encourage originality. They prefer to teach what they have knowledge of. I think students should try to create originality while doing a painting. The run of the mill paintings of Krishna, Lakshmi etc should be redone to inspire new look and new creation. Tanjore painting is not a difficult art. One needs to have a lot of patience, perseverance and the continued interest to do more than one piece of art. Effort is needed to sustain the interest and it will rewarded by the satisfaction one gets from the appreciation by others.

5. From whom did you learn this beautiful medium?
I tried my hand on Tanjore painting way back in 1998. I did a few paintings using acrylic paints and was not fully satisfied. I would compare my work with those exhibited in art shops and exhibitions , found that I lacked fundamentals. So I went hunting for a Guru and there were few takers. Most masters were reluctant to teach an old man over 70. At last I found a young teacher, Veeramanikandan,( from a Kurukkal family) who had his training in the Tanjore Art School run by the Chettinad Raja Muthiah family. He was willing to teach me, though he had his own doubts if I could stand the strain of working 3 to 4 hours a day. I took the challenge and he spent two hours a day teaching me from how to make a board to how to frame a picture. After every session I would religiously make my own notes to remember the process. This helped me in knowing all the pitfalls and the solution.

6. What do you think is the future for tanjore paintings?
Tanjore Painting is a form of art that creates awe in the mind of people and a feeling that it is a highly skilled process with a lot of intricacy that common people cannot attempt to do. On the contrary it is a delicate art that needs care, patience and a bit of perseverance to get the right features of the figures and the symmetry of the decorative arches and pillars that add to the beauty of the painting. The colour combination is also  important. Most teachers do not partwith the knowledge ( usually very little) of the process. Since they teach by doing most of the work that the student is expected to do, little knowledge is passed on. The student, after the first painting cannot begin a second painting on his/her own effort and the learning comes to a stop there. More transparency of the process and source of material should be available to students to encourage them in the making of these paintings. The Tanjore art should be taught in all art schools to create an awareness and go global.

7. Can you tell us the difference between tanjore and Mysore paintings?
The Tanjore art existed even during the Chola period (9th century ) as seen from some mural paintings in the Brahadeeswarar Temple in Tanjore. Use of base material changed from plastered walls to wooden board . Painting material changed. Use of gold foil and precious stones were added. The few skilled craftsmen who had settled down in Tanjore came from the north(Vijayanagar ) and then spread to places like Madurai, Uraiyur and Mysore.

The Mysore style of painting is not very different from the Tanjore style. In the Tanjore style, there is a liberal use of semi precious stones, gold foil and ornaments. The board of wood is covered with a cloth pasted on it and the painting is done on this cloth. In Mysore style the board is of thick cardboard or wood and the painting is done on paper board pasted on the mother board. Less or no stone work is done. Instead the ornamental stones are painted. Gold is used. The figures are generally round faced. The gesso or relief work is prominent in Tanjore painting.

In Mysore it is subdued. The subject of Tanjore Painting is mostly religious , whereas in Mysore more  prominence to human figures and royalty along with mythological figures. In the use of base material for Tanjore gesso work was done with tamarind paste and lime. Now it is chalk powder and gum Arabica.
In Mysore art, white lead , makki gaboge (yellow powder ) and a fruit called revana chinni halu was used.

8. Do you conduct classes in Chennai?
I do not conduct classes, but I help students all over the world with my notes, sketches, suppliers list and through the internet guide them in their problems and answer their queries. When they mail me their work I examine it and advise corrective action . I help them sometimes in getting the material and post it to them.

9. What is your normal day like?
I lead a simple life, arise at 5 am , help my wife with her chores like cutting vegetables, making the bed etc. After a good cup of coffee and a bath, it is time to leave the grand daughter at school. I do not drive now, but go with the driver, pick up vegetables, grocery etc. Around 9 am I go to the temple after my puja. After 10 am it is time to read the newspapers, to see the mail, answer queries and reply mail. Around 12 noon we have our lunch. Then a short rest, see the TV news, stock market changes, decide on buy or sell and around 2pm it is coffee time. Then I bring my board out to see what further work is needed to complete the half done painting. At about 4 or 5 pm it is time to call friends /relatives to speak with. At 6pm it is seva time on SVBC ( Tirupathi channel) see the sahasaralankara deepa aradhana. 7.30 pm is dinner time, then a bit of work on the board and 10 pm it is bed time.

10. Tell us a bit about your family.
We are a small family (origin is Tanjore Dist,a village called Bapurajapuram near Kumbakonam. My wife hails from Umayalpuram another village on the Cauvery banks). But I have spent most of my life in other states . Born in Bangalore, educated in Pune, worked in Karnataka (Dharwar, Bangalore),Kerala (Cochin) Tamil Nadu (Chennai) Andhra (Hyderabad), Maharashtra( Aurangabad, Mumbai and Pune ) and back in Chennai after retirement to be closer to my elderly parents. We are a multilingual family with speaking and understanding ability of all the Southern State languages. We have a son who works for a US based software company as a senior executive with Headquarters in Chennai. His wife had her education in Delhi. They have two daughters.

11. Do you visit other artist blogs or websites? If so name a few of your favorites.
I do visit other blogs /websites ,see and learn many things not known earlier, like one stroke painting, tribal art, kalamkari etc. Your blog Kai Kriye is a must everytime you come out with a new creation. I view youtube for gold foil working, Japanese art with foil, and any other site of interest that can provide  information on new creativity.

11. Your best works!
Everytime I do a new one I feel the earlier one could have been better. In some cases I have redone older
paintings as I was not satisfied with the work. Though I have done over 150 paintings ,I do not sell my paintings, but have them on all the walls (except bedrooms and kitchen). Some of my paintings have been given away as gifts to newly wed couples, at grahapravesams, upanayanam, apthapoorthis, etc.

95 Ganesha paintings have been gifted and I hope to make it 108. They are all over the world (the US, Germany, Dubai, Singapore, Australia etc and also in many Indian towns ) smiling and blessing all who view them.

NDTV GoodTimes did a programme recently with Mr Vir Sanghvi, noted editor and epicurean, and anchor person. The programme called " Made to Order for Vir Sanghvi " was broadcast last year in 6 episodes. One of them was a Tanjore Painting of Vir Sanghvi that I made for the serial, which shows the making of the painting and presenting it to him. This evoked a lot of interest in this fine art from many in the North who wanted me to do a portrait for them in Tanjore style. 
And since then I have done a few portraits. My largest work is 24" x 30" of Cosmic dance and recently I also made Ramar pattabhisekam.


Here is the link to the programme. The third person in the programme is Mr. V.K.Iyer.

It is indeed my privilege to have known you Sir and learnt so much from you. I hope to continue painting and as you said its very important for us Indians to preserve our traditional art forms.

Thank you for your precious time and patience in answering my questions. I am sure many who read this across the globe will develop an interest in this art medium and they sure know whom to contact for guidance and help. Your are a great inspiration to many of us. Truly!

Below here is Mr.V.K.Iyer, his family and his tanjore paintings.


                                                                                         RAMAR PATTABHISEKAM

                                                                                            COSMIC DANCE


                                                                                             MORE PAINTINGS

                                                       This is closeup photo of the painting Sir did for Mr. Vir Sanghvi.

Thank you once again Sir. I hope you all enjoyed reading about Mr.V.K.Iyer's Life and work as much as I had great joy and privilege in writing about his passion. Have a great weekend all of you!!!!!!!