Thota Vaikuntam

By Galleriesplash, June 4, 2020


In today’s world, when someone refers to a work of art as a “Vaikuntam”, it describes a distinctive style of work, something that throbs with primary colours and ornate finesse. But most of all, it refers to flat illustrations of village folk, – dark, rustic, and distinctly Indian. 

Born in 1942 in Boorugupalli in the Karimnagar District within the Telangana, the heartland of Andhra Pradesh, Thota Vaikuntam, in a career that spanned nearly four decades, is famous for his portrayal of Telangana women. His intelligent detailing, boldness of brush strokes and refinement in composition have achieved a level of precision that establishes him as one of the leading figurative artists in India and abroad today. Thota Vaikuntam shares space with the best of artists, in some of the most prominent art galleries across the world.

Notable for the women centric creation of his work, Vaikuntam’s pivotal point of inspiration is his devotion to his beloved mother, Satyamma, which he fondly referred to as his fountain of creativity. An artist who draws inspiration from life around him, Thota Vaikuntam uses primary colours that are very Indian, his characters are closer home and he draws inspiration from his childhood spent in a Village. Vaikuntam spent most of his childhood in the intensely rustic surroundings of Telangana. Within this rural cycle of life, Vaikuntam learned to appreciate the simplicity, beauty, and innocence of the village people. Home to weavers and farmers, his village, will be his constant source of inspiration throughout his career.

Despite pressure to join the family business, he managed to gain his mother’s blessing to train as an artist. He joined the College of Fine Arts and Architecture in Hyderabad in 1960 determined to make a living through his art. What followed was a difficult period of instability and a long struggle for survival. Impoverished by circumstance, Vaikuntam was unable to afford canvas or expensive paints. He had to stick to cheaper medium of charcoal, pencil, pen and ink. His wide-ranging exposure and persistence to earn his living through art would prove valuable in achieving his success later in life. 

Unable to make progress as an artist, Vaikuntam, taught art to children in Hyderabad Bal Bhavan for 15 years. It was during this time that he started black and white drawings on erotic theme. He then went on to draw nudes called the ‘Woman Series’. For two decades, he continued to draw and paint without much recognition and appreciation. In 1971, on a fellowship from the Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Akademi, he was able to refine his painting skills and learn printmaking under the artist-scholar K.G. Subramanyan. . He says, “I realized that art was much more difficult than I had imagined. It made me realize how important it was to study ourselves, instead of always looking to the West. We have to take inspiration from our own surroundings. While people of the world are doing the copies of Picasso and Matisse, I have to look back to my village.”

The period between 1978 and 1985 is considered the most fruitful and eventful of his life as an artist. While working on the film, “Palleturi Pillagada” (Village Lad), he arrived at the concept of his now famous women of Telangana. “I’ve taken from my people in Telangana. I draw them. I take my colours from them. I’ve taken details from their everyday lives, stylized them and make them look grand. That’s my intention.” His work bears a witness to his love for rural life, his innate knowledge for his subjects, and a desire to create a picture of the innocent world untouched and uncorrupted by ‘civilized’ society. Like many of his contemporaries, he has tried to seek a new inspiration in tradition and culture and has managed to develop his own personal style as embodied in his paintings of Telangana beauties.

After toiling years after years in obscurity, today Thota Vaikuntam is famous. His art is showcased both in India and abroad, he travels extensively along with his art shows and his paintings have become a status symbol. He lives and works out of Hyderabad.

He has received numerous awards for his art work.

  • Hyderabad Art Society Award Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Academy, 1975-1977
  • ‘Mahakoshal Kala Samithi’, Madhya Pradesh Award from Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, India, 1979
  • Academy of Fine Arts Award, Kolkata, 1979
  • Chitra Kala Parishad Award, Bangalore, India , 1979
  • Hyderabad Art Society Award, Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Academy, 1982 & 1985
  • Biennale Award, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, 1988
  • National Award Art Direction of Film ‘Daasi’, 1989
  • National Award for Painting, 1993

His popular exhibitions are:

  • 2018: Retelling Stories, Art Pilgrim,  Gulal : A Celebratory Exhibition of Works by Modern, Masters & Talented Contemporaries, Gallery Kolkata,  Gallerie Splash, India Art Festival Delhi edition,   Gallerie Splash, Annual Exhibition “India Art Today”,  Visual Art Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi.         
  • 2017: Sanchit Art at Art Stage Singapore 2017, Sanchit Art,   Gallerie Splash, India Art Festival Delhi edition.
  • 2015:  STR? AVALEKHA – a collection of works from the archive, Swaraj Art Archive, Noida.
  • 2011:  ‘Metamorphosis: The Changing World of Thota Vaikuntam’, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi.
  • 2010:  ‘Saffron.Vermilion.Turmeric’, Indigo Blue Art, Singapore.
  • 2007 :  ‘Yes, I am He’, organized by India Fine Art, India Fine Art, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai.
  • 2007:  ‘Telangana: Inheritance of a Dream Lost’, Art Alive, New Delhi.
  • 2006: ‘Mukham’, Sanskriti Art Gallery, Kolkata.
  • 2005: ‘Telangana Men and Women’, Arts India, California.
  • 2005: ‘Naupu Telupu’, India Fine Art, Mumbai.
  • 2003: ‘larger than Life – Vaikuntam’s Women’, Arts India, New York and The Guild, Mumbai.
  • 2003: ‘Portraits’, Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai.
  • 2001: ‘Memories of Telangana’, Sama, New Delhi.
  • 2000: ‘Mother’, Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai.
  • 1999: Gallery 678, New York − 1998 ‘My Telangana Images’, Mumbai.
  • 1980: Exhibition of Charcoal Drawings on Mother Series, Kala Bhavan, Hyderabad.
  • 1978:  Exhibition of Ink and Wash drawings, Kala Bhavan, Hyderabad.

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