Milind Nayak Writings


Shenoy Mam

I was introduced to him at a wedding. Later, I went up to him and told him that I wanted to paint and whether he taught painting.  “I don’t teach painting” he said with a smile and invited me over to his studio and the art gallery. My first visit to his studio was a very apprehensive one. I took a couple of watercolors along. First, he objected to the way I had rolled my painting and that was to be my first lesson with him. To keep the paper flat, except when it was needed to be moved and stored flat otherwise. He also started dropping in to my house once in a while to suggest corrections in the work I was doing. He kept a couple of donkey easels and easels in his studio, above the Gallery. He would be happily painting there with a tape recorder providing music. On occasion we would also join him and paint in the space provided by him. P N Acharya was another artist who also frequented the studio and on one occasion I had the good fortune of getting a fantastic perspective on the behavior of light. Shenoy pulled out a lot of studies he had done and explained how light behaved on different occasions. Though the talk was to illustrate how to execute the fall of fabric, it gave me an insight which has helped me to bring in these qualities in my work to this date. The most difficult task for me during this period was to dissociate my work from his influence.In time, I would get to be introduced to the impressionists and later the abstract expressionist movement. My questions on these subjects must have been quite irritating, and every question was answered by him patiently.


He still did not offer to teach me painting but he asked me drop in whenever I could find time and to keep showing him the work I did. I kept watching his paintings as they appeared and then it became a ritual to sip a cup of coffee and discuss the painting. These were to be my lessons as I kept painting. Other artist’s in town also dropped in whenever they were in town. Many of them worked from Bangalore and Madras. I met Peter Lewis, Bhasker Rao, Ramesh Rao, Devadigar. Sometimes, we would have a large gathering of people. This included P.N. Acharya ,K.S Sherigar and others which eventually translated into South Kanara Art Council (SKAC)being formed with Shenoy Mam as its first Secretary. Peter Lewis, being the senior most was elected as its first President.
He was a rebel in the true sense. Much before I came to know him, he had squatted on the footpath on MG Road in Bangalore to protest against the lack of a proper gallery in Bangalore. His protests did yield results. Venkatappa Art Gallery on Kasturba Road was due to his diligent struggle. He narrated one day how the police officer who was sent to vacate him from the foot path turned to be a good friend after a while. Mr. Nizamuddin,  retired as the Police Commisioner of Bangalore and Shenoy Mam enjoyed a lifelong friendship with him. I remember how he used to return angry after meetings of the Lalitkala Academy in Bangalore and tell us how our initiative was required to create a movement. “People don’t appreciate art as they don’t know anything about it. It is our duty to make them feel comfortable enough for them to attend the exhibitions. We have a responsibility to educate them and answer their questions” he always said.
 We would go on small trips out of the town: A bunch of artists painting nature. I always got a bit of real scolding for not treating my brushes right. “These are tools which we have to take care; the colour should never go on the ferrule or the handle. Only the bristles have to be dipped in colour. Clean your brushes as soon as you finish working. Don’t let them lie with their bristles down soaked in turpentine, they destroy the brushes” he used to tell me. Today I remember these admonishments with a sense of gratitude, as I learnt how to clean my equipment and keep them ready for use at any time.
One of the fine aspects of these meetings was that they were never always restricted to the visual arts alone. There was always a smattering of singers, writers and people from all walks of creativity . Poets like Ramdas, Panchakshari Hiremutt would join the discussions. There would be Music concerts by B. S. Rao, one of Shenoy Mam’s friends who was a gifted singer.
Shenoy Mam was never convinced with the idea of a formal group of artists working together in the beginning. It was the pressure we put on him to start a group which he very reticently agreed upon to take the leadership and after this, I guess, a small town of Udupi had more art shows than in Bangalore at the time. Every Saturday we would meet at Shrungar Art Gallery, which Shenoy Mam had started way back in 1969 and we would discuss new trends in art. He had an uncanny talent of pushing us into work ever so gently and when we were lazy the push would translate into a not so gentle shove.
I held my first show at his gallery in 1975 and he guided me through the process of holding exhibitions. The task was more of hands on approach to train us through the process of exhibiting successfully. Not just painting and showing, but finding buyers in the small town and helping us sell our work too. The encouragement was very successful in making us come out of our small town approach and get us to interact with a world with a larger perspective. This led to a show of artists of SKAC in Bangalore and was received very well. One of the first activity of SKAC was organizing a Kala Mela in the small town of Udupi  in 1978 and in 1980 and this was a fine ten day affair where artists from different disciplines came together and exhibited and performed together.
The activities at SKAC were noteworthy because for the first time it brought together artists from a small town to voice the needs of the artist’s community. The SKAC experience also brought out the need for a larger perspective and this came about by the formation of a second group Shenoy Mam was also instrumental in organizing. This group was called Karnataka painters in which Yusuf Arakkal, Noorulla, Appukuttan Achary, Janardhan, Arnawaz , S.G. Vasudev,Santhanam and other painters who were active in Karnataka. The result was a series of three shows in Bangalore, Hyderabad and in Chennai. The group also contributed greatly to conducting the first Kala Mela in Bangalore. The city was to be a place rocking with an active art movement in the days to come.
My shifting to New Delhi in 1980 brought in a gap in communication and was limited to our getting together during my annual visits to Udupi.  Shenoy Mam had shifted his attention to working on metal sheets and every time I met him, I sensed a renewed enthusiasm with new work happening all the time.  The bas relief work he was doing was very well received and he had shifted his attention to executing large murals. He was always in the quest to do something new and experiment with a lot of materials. The breaks in stylistic traditions did not bother him.
His later works were to be purely abstract in nature and this he named the “Rock” series. These were inspired by the rocks in Badami and Hampi. Once while he was doing this work I dropped into his studio and was surprised to find three small still life paintings. “Paintings for the soul” he said. “When you are working towards an exhibition, you also need to relax and do some work that satisfies the soul” he told me.
When I finally landed up in Udupi in 1984, Shenoy Mam had decided to shift to Bangalore. He wound up his photography business and moved into painting full time. He always was a reluctant photographer and had always wanted to do painting full time. We got together again in 1987 when I shifted over to Bangalore and since I was staying close to his house we met quite often. My interest has shifted to photography in the meantime and I would land up at his house and photograph his work now and then. A lot of things had changed. His son Gurudas had decided to follow his father’s footsteps and make a career out of painting. His daughter Rekha had also grown into a fine young maiden. Shenoy Mam was always very close to his family and his days revolved sometimes in merry parties with his wife and kids. Sometimes these parties were attended by artists he invited home and there was always some gathering or the other happening. I met some of the greatest Indian artists of my time, K.K. Hebbar and M F Husain at these gatherings.
Shenoy Mam had by this time came to be regarded as a natural leader representing the problems of the artists and had a large following. He was active in the Lalitkala Academy and spent most of his free time in holding meetings with other artists and share common concerns. Once when I pointed out to him that he was spending too much time in these activities and neglecting his own work, he chided me and said “An artist should be a good human being above all things, I refuse to operate within the narrow confines for personal gain, the art movement is a real thing for me.” He believed in what he worked for and whenever any artist approached him with any problem, was ever ready to offer his assistance in any way he could.
One of his last assignments was to take charge of CAVA, the art school in Mysore and turn it around to be an institution where quality education could be provided. He worked tirelessly trying to make a better institution he had assumed charge of. His sudden and premature end at the age of fifty six came as a shock to the artist community.
Words would be too inadequate to describe the totality of the contribution of his work in terms of the human aspect alone. In terms of being an artist he was par excellence. Memories of how he held the brush and how it hovered over the surface of canvas, how the stroke was effected with exceptional ease still remain. The tip of the brush did a ballet on the surface of the paper or canvas. The tenderness and attention he paid to details in all aspects of his work has been particularly exceptional.
When I fondly look back at this association with him I often wonder whether he was a teacher, a motivating force or a friend. He was a mentor in the true sense of the word. He was an incorrigible romantic at heart. An iconic personality to say the least.


Published in Shenoy- Footsteps -2012