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The art of collecting

Collecting art is primarily a matter of the heart, says Harish Padmanabha


HARISH PADMANABHA is an incurable shopper. But his shopping window is not located in swanky malls or fashionable boutiques. His passion is collecting works of art. A well-known name in the city's art circles, Harish speaks on what he calls a "mad hobby" and embarks on a nostalgic trip.

Weekend auctions

"I ventured into contemporary Indian art about two decades ago. Till then, I was collecting furniture, artefacts, rugs, carpets, and so on. I was also a regular at weekend auctions. Ironically, it was a visit to some of the finest museums and art galleries in Europe and the U.S.A., which triggered my interest in contemporary Indian art.

"I bought my first painting at the Kritika Art Gallery for Rs. 20. It was a soothing experience furing those days to visit the homey Kritika on St. Mark's Road, which really was a small cottage with a tiny garden space. I would look forward to chatting with its owner, Ms. Dayaram, who was an endearing lady. Unfortunately, the gallery closed down.

The art scene

"Then came Sara Abraham of Kala Yatra fame who opened the Sistas Art Gallery in the city. In my opinion, it was she who actually invigorated the art scene in Bangalore by bringing in high-quality works of many senior and well-known artists of India. It was from her that I collected some exquisite paintings of M.F. Husain, K.G. Subramanyan, Ram Kumar, Jogen Chowdhary, Gogi Saroj Pal, Somenath Hore, Laxma Goud, Vivan Sundaram, and many others, in the mid-1980s.

"In all these 20-odd years, on every visit to Bombay, Madras, Delhi or Calcutta, I've invariably included a mandatory trip to major art galleries, museums, and artists' villages. It was during the late 1980s that I visited the Cholamandalam artists' village (near Chennai), and picked up a couple of copper jardinières from Vasudev and his artist wife, Arnawaz. (I later came to know that Arnawaz was terminally ill.) It was also in Cholamandalam that I met artists like Bhaskaran, Adimoolam, Reddappa Naidu, Janakiraman, Nandagopal and Jaipal Panicker

"Another easy recall is the special trip I made to Bombay in 1987 for the Christies' Charity auction at the Taj Hotel. Standing in the middle of the Crystal Hall, I was simply mesmerised by the fantastic display of works by all major Indian artists. It was too good to be true!

"Once in Calcutta, I located, with considerable difficulty, Bikash Bhattacharya's home. He welcomed me with a glass of water and delicious sandesh while informing me that all his paintings had already been taken. Within a week, I located a seller and acquired a large Bikash painting. When the airport authorities refused to allow the painting to be carried in the plane, my friends managed to send it later, through an acquaintance, who was none other than the pilot himself. Can you imagine a large Bikash painting perking up the cockpit of an aircraft?!

Vibrant

"After all this Bharat darshan, let us get back to our own Bengalooru. In what I call the `Neo-Bangalore', the art scene in the city is quite vibrant, but one only hopes that the momentum is sustained. It is also nice to see that several galleries have sprung up. I not only visit these galleries regularly but also interact with artists — both established and aspiring young ones. I take delight in interacting with critics and reviewers so as to gain a deeper insight into the world of art.

"While I am proud that my collection includes almost all the best-known names of contemporary Indian art, I always look for opportunities to upgrade my collection with newer and more inspiring works.

"Ultimately, I firmly believe that collecting art is primarily a matter of the heart. And it's not just collecting but proper maintenance and preservation that are equally important for a collector. I make it a point to provide maximum attention to these aspects as well."

(As told to ATHREYA)

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