An uncompromising artist

Print edition : December 19, 2003

PICTURES: B.R. VISWANATH

R.M. Hadapad, 1936-2003.

THE legendary stature of Dr. Rudrappa Mallappa Hadapad is riddled with astonishing contradictions. It will remain an enigma for the media-savvy celebrities and their promoters. He was hardly courted by either the art market or the corporate world. A couple of group shows in which his works were represented abroad do not figure prominently on the contemporary art world map as do certain biennials and triennials. Closer home, he never drew the attention of even his closest acquaintances, colleagues and students to his works that span a period of over four decades. There is no systematic appreciation of his works at all either at the regional level or the national level.

Hadapad, on his part, was invariably full of praise for a number of his favourite contemporary artists, young and old. One of them was the equally brilliant but less-known artist Rumale Chennabasaviah. Hadapad, as the chairman of the Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi (1987-1990), was instrumental in bringing out a short monograph on Rumale Chennabasaviah in 1989.

A list of a number of his past students reads like a who is who of the contemporary celebrities on the national and international art scene. Hadapad, to be sure, was hardly a recluse. He also had a constant complaint against all his students and acquaintances for not getting together, for not forming a group. He insisted on regular discussions on art and culture.

Untitled oil painting (2000) by Hadapad.-

Hadapad was born in 1932 at Badami in Bijapur district. He studied at the J.J. School of Arts, Bombay (1957). He began his career in 1961 as a teaching superintendent at the Bangalore branch of the Karnataka Fine Art Educational Society, Hubli, started in the late 1950s by his mentor and artist M.M. Minajigi. It was one of the earliest art schools in Karnataka. The school folded up in 1967 and Hadapad began to conduct his Ken Art Classes that later became the Ken School of Art. The Kannada University, Hampi, had conferred on him its highest honour of Nadoja. The State government had honoured him with the Rajyotsava Award and also the prestigious Varnashilpi Venkatappa Award.

Hadapad's favourite public forum was the modestly built Ken School of Art (in Sheshadripuram, Bangalore) of which he was the founder-principal. He fondly nurtured the school for over three decades into a major cultural centre in Karnataka with the support of J.M.S. Mani, one of his students, an acclaimed senior artist and currently the principal of the school. The school remains anything but a cultural hothouse. It does not even boast of a sophisticated studio, library or display space for the students. It is neither exclusive nor elitist. It continues to double up for an educational institution by day and a warm home by night. A few young students from rural Karnataka stay overnight in the school premises. As the regular classes fold up by the evening, the modest premises serve also as a public space for art lovers, past students and hobbyists to hang out.

However, Hadapad was ill-equipped to either lead or form groups in the art community even as a teacher. He was too independent and uncompromising an artist to take on that role. He was also inconsistent and notoriously mischievous. A couple of days before he passed away, he was teasing a gifted young artist, who was also self-effacing, in front of the Ken School. Hadapad asked him to bring his works and arrange for a public debate at the school. The shy and soft-spoken artist was, however, pretty assertive and did not accept Hadapad's offer. He was obviously sceptical of Hadapad's intentions. Hadapad took the opportunity to elaborate in Kannada on the ways in which art objects are quite different from a sensibility called `art'. "You focus too much on the physical object to notice the `art' in it. You have to let it go, make yourself vulnerable. If you recognise the agency that an artwork enjoys, you will see that it has the powers to alter you. The viewers will surprise you with diverse reactions and make you wonder, `did I make this work?' You will be transformed."

Hadapad had this peculiar strategy to teach and learn through such spontaneous provocative acts. It throws light on both his personal philosophy of art and on the ways in which he tried to formulate that philosophy.

Hadapad has expanded the world around him in the ways in which his definition of `art' does here. It is a very delightful and happy world in which each imperfect individual is but a unique and fascinating personality. It is a harmonious world in which one would readily accept differences. On his part, however, Hadapad was quite partial and had had his favourites, too, at the school. He never pretended to be a leader, saint or martyr. Perhaps, he knew that he could not handle such restrictive roles for himself. He chose to be a friend, conscience keeper and just an unpretentious mortal. He was also a soul mate for some. He was remarkably secure as an artist and teacher despite the overwhelming demands on his mind and heart in the fast-changing Bangalore.

Hadapad, briefly, was just fun. He hardly cared for the physical objects of art he made. He was hilarious, witty, mischievous, full of hopes and dreams. One of his most recent dream projects was an art museum in Badami, his native place. For all his modernist emphasis in art teaching and practice, Hadapad insisted on a social role for art. A few hours before he was pronounced dead, he was taking a look at the six-feet canvas painting hung on the sidewall of another building inside the Ken School compound. It was a collaborative painting by a group of current students of the school supporting the recent demand for press freedom. Hadapad suggested to the students that they keep that public space constantly vibrant through their art. It was a pretty cold Saturday in Bangalore when he ventured out, after this interaction with his students, for his weekend classes at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Shortly after that he was hospitalised owing to his prolonged illness. He breathed his last a few hours later and was laid to rest with State honours in Bangalore on November 23.

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