Vijay Hagargundgi – Artist and a Dedicated Collector

During the fifties and sixties of 20th century, India was still learning to take infant steps in the world order of industrialised nations. People were being lured away from their hereditary occupations and villages to work in various industries being set up across the country. The main reason being economics, traditional craft forms were not a paying proposition as the patronage for the same had vanished in the new democratic setup. One such city migrant was Siddaramappa who along with his new bride Ratnamma, left his ancestral village of Hagargundgiand traveled a few miles away to Gulbarga to work as a supervisor in a cloth mill. Vijay was born in the fag end of  1957 as the first son of this couple in Gulbarga.

Monochromatic illustrations in his school text books attracted the young Vijay more than text. The firm lines of the drawings captivated his imagination. His formal education came to a naught during his 12th standard; Vijay headed to the Ideal Fine Art Society’s MMK College of Visual Art and studied art for six years. A scholarship from Karnataka Lalitakala Academy gave him the opportunity to go to Shantiniketan. Modern trends in art influenced art education with abstract expressionism gaining momentum. Vijay was not satisfied by aesthetics, philosophy and politics of this modern art, disappointed, he left Shantiniketan after just a month.

Surpura was a small principality ruled by a dynasty of local chieftains for 6 generations before it was absorbed into the dominion of the erstwhile Hyderabad state. It was these royal patrons, local mutts, eminent musicians and rich merchants who commissioned paintings of religious subjects and portraits that led to the evolution of this school from Vijayanagar school of painting.

Vijay had visited Surpura, about 100 kms away from Gulbarga, during an educational tour, there he had come across beautiful murals on the crumbling walls of a royal mansion and mutts. Exquisite miniatures of this style had retained the original language of its forerunner, the Vijayanagar school of painting. He was drawn to it like a moth to the flame, and copied these miniatures. Since he had been taught in the contemporary painting system, he found it a hindrance to adapt to this ancient style. By then no artist who painted in this style was alive, it was road block. The inevitable stared him in the eyes; he could not pursue the art which he desired the most.

Vijay is a born fighter, who does not accept defeat easily, when there is no road to continue, he treads his own path, he did just the same in this situation. Rajasthan – famous for its miniature paintings beckoned him, he went to Jaipur and took the studentship of Dwaraka Prasad Sharma, a master of miniature painting. Vijay adapted the miniature technique, he mastered the nuances of miniatures and after two months of studentship in the desert state, he returned home. Using the techniques he learnt, he started copying the fragmented and damaged Surpura paintings. The fluid lines from the single haired brush began to take similar forgotten shapes on the paper, a new lease of life was given to Surpura paintings after almost a century.

This successful experiment created a sensation amongst the gallerists and seasoned art collectors, Vijay’s paintings were sold far and wide. Today, they adorn many a beautiful mansions, museums and collections across the globe. He has remained faithful to the language of his art; his favourite subjects for paintings are from Shiva purana, Dashavatara, Navagraha, Ashta Dikpalakas, Ashtanayikas, Kama Sutra, etc. His love for Hindustani music is reflected in his painting series of Ragamala. He is also adept at new compositions as evidenced in the illustrations he did for ghazals of Shantarasa; his miniatures can be described as visual poetry of flowing lines, solid colours and delicate gesso.

Another important facet of Vijay is revealed through his love to collect antique bronze icons and puja paraphernalia of the region. His mother Ratnamma did not discard old brass utensils or exchange them for new stainless steel ones as everyone else did. She put them to regular use in kitchen neatly arranged. Her passion for old utensils triggered similar attraction in Vijay. Old brass, bronze and copperware are sold as scrap or exchanged for new utensils in bazars even today, these junked items are sold as scrap for melting, Vijay instinctively bought these utensils and puja paraphernalia. This behaviour often invited derision and anger from other members of his family, but he never relented; these humble objet de arts form the core of his collection which has grown today to include Surpura miniatures, glass paintings, the long forgotten Uddharani paintings, extremely rare Edramay paintings, Mysore and Tanjore paintings, Bhuta figurines in wood and metal, innumerable bronze mukha lingas, equestrian bronzes of the folk hero Mailaralinga, etc.

Very often Vijay came across beautiful bronze idols being worshipped in friends’ families. When he requested them to part with the same for his collection, many agreed on the condition that they should be given new ones in lieu. These folk bronzes were not readily available in market, they had to be made to order by a remaining few families of Kanchagars (literally, bronzesmiths) in the remote hamlet of Gajarkote in Gulbarga district which meant waiting indefinitely. Instead, he headed to Delhi and learnt the lost wax process of bronze casting from the accomplished artist Pushparaj Betala. Vijay became proficient in bronze casting and was able to create new idols and exchange the old ones for his collection.

Several awards and recognitions have been bestowed on Vijay by various institutions like Karnataka Lalita Kala Academy, AIFACS, Mallikarjuna Mansur Foundation, etc. Vijay has participated in ‘Art in Action’, which is held annually at London, for four years in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 2000. He has held several one man shows of his paintings in New Delhi (1983, 1986 & 1993), Baroda (1986), Bangalore (1983, 1986, 1988, 1990), Mumbai (1991) and Gulbarga (Vikas Bhavan 1997) along with shows at New Delhi (Art Today 1995 & Gallery Espace 2001) and London (Nehru Centre 2000). His paintings are in the collections of Lalitakala Academies of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chennai, New Delhi, Neemrana Fort Palace, Modern Art gallery, New Delhi, South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur, Sanskriti Museum, New Delhi, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Venkatappa Art Gallery, Government Museum, Bangalore, Folklore Museum, Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysore and many private collections in and outside India.

Vijay Hagargundgi’s contact details are as follows:C/o Abhay R Patil, Plot no 51/1, Kotambri Layout, Behind Central Bus Stand, Gulbarga 585103

Email: Mobile: 9480942377