Home is where the art is

Published Oct 14, 2015, 4:54 am IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 12:08 pm IST
The celebrated artist talks about his family, his growing up years and his passion for art.
If there is one artist who has put Andhra Pradesh on the world map, it’s Laxma Goud. Versatile, legendary and well-known in the country and world over, Laxma Goud’s artworks are sought after by private collectors globally.
But not many know about the artist, his early days of struggle, how he was shunned by the same college where he graduated from and how his family looks after his work that he produces at a staggering speed — the count for just the past three months being 60.
In his Jubilee Hills home, the 75-year-old dressed in shorts, T-shirt and his trademark photo-chromatic glasses talks about his journey, why lack of accolades don’t bother him and how Hyderabad’s weak demand for art is actually a blessing in disguise.  
Home, where it all began
Born in Nizampur, Andhra Pradesh, Laxma Goud is the fourth son in a family of five siblings and the only one to have made art as a profession. The artist grew up surrounded by nature, an element that features in his work. “I belong to an agrarian household where my father was a great admirer of my work. He believed in education and insisted that I joined the Government College of Art and Architecture where I pursued diploma in drawing and painting. He was so happy when I received a stipend in the first year that he went back to the village and happily told everybody that he ‘doesn’t have to pay my fees any more’,” says Laxma, who admits he was his father’s favourite child.
“We had a pony that my father would let only me ride. On another occasion, we had a 10-day school field trip to Ajanta and Elora, costing `20; my father could only afford to send either me or my older brother and he chose me.”
Hanumantha Rao and Laxma Goud
Growing up, Laxma always found solidarity in his father’s taste for fine things. 
“He had a beautiful hand; I remember he asked me to write a letter when my younger sister was getting married and I felt so privileged with the responsibility. And he was educated because of which he was appointed in the revenue department to look after the accounts in the Sangareddy area. He was always well-dressed; he used to wear this stark white shirt, dhoti and a turban. And these chappals specially made in Gadak district, Karnataka, which are now a sought-after fashion accessory. If you notice, this look worn by my father features in a lot of my works.”
Laxma’s father, unfortunately, couldn’t live to witness his son’s fame as he passed away when he was in his second year at the Government College.
Learning point and guiding force
On a state scholarship, Laxma Goud was selected to study mural painting and printmaking at the M.S. University, Baroda. And that’s the point in his life when he realised that he was meant to be an artist. 
“Compared to my time at the Government School, there was a sea of change at Baroda. I had come from a Telugu medium school, didn’t know English and their way of teaching was difficult to understand,” says Laxma, who rather than going to libraries and doing homework, just wanted to create.
“I believe my inadequacies helped make the best decision for me as I left the course after one and a half years. 
“Professor K.G. Subramanyan (also one of the pioneers of modern Indian art) who I studied under during that period, took one look at my sketch book and knew I had potential. He spoke to the management and allowed me to not do homework but just design,” says Laxma. 
Laxma Goud came back to Hyderabad in 1965 and whenever he is at work, the artist admits that he sees Professor Subramanyan standing by his side. “I always feel his presence when I am doing some work. He is my guiding force, I know he is always watching me and will correct me.”
A 12-year-long struggle
In Hyderabad, Laxma knocked on the doors of his previous institute for a space to paint, but in vain. “I was selected on a state scholarship and studied in such a reputed institute, yet my institute here refused to help me out. I was desperate, I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. I was like a beggar who could sing beautifully, I had talent, but no means to fill my stomach.”
Soon after, Laxma’s vice-principal allowed him to work in his garage. But despite finding a place to stay, Laxma had trouble making money. “You couldn’t even expect people to pay for your artwork back then. And there were no art galleries. So what followed was a year of starving,” he says.
In 1966, Laxma Goud got married and started staying in the outhouse of a lawyer friend. He also started working with Doordarshan (for 15 years). Over the course of time, Laxma  received support from the renowned Jagdish Mittal, who was fond of him. “But the money was not sufficient. The rent for the house I was living in was Rs 35 per month. I used to make greeting cards that would sell for Rs 15, do batik work on saris and kurtas and get Rs 15 more. If I used to sell more cards or batik works, then I could afford groceries or a new shirt for our oldest daughter, Nandini,” he says.
His struggle went on for 12 long years, until he had his first exhibition in New Delhi in 1971 and people started recognising him.
Family that guards his expanding work
Laxma begins his day at the crack of dawn and after breakfast he is at his studio where he works all day long. The studio is like a two-room outhouse surrounded by trees and guarded by three of his dogs. The room is full of small toys that he has made himself, sculptures stacked on rows, on the wall is a painting of a fruit done by his oldest daughter that Laxma loves, and piles of little pieces of wood that his nephew, who looks after Laxma’s farm, has sent.
Outside are rows of guava and custard apple trees, fruits from which are stacked on his tables, and in the corner is his paper mache project drying under the sun. “I have to work, I can’t sit idle. In the past three months, I have made 60 ceramics, pencil drawings, singular drawings, etching plates etc. I am now working on canvas (acrylic), a new occupation,” he adds.
Most of Laxma’s work is stored at his son-in-law’s residence. “I don’t like people coming over to my house asking me to show them my work.”
Laxma has three daughters, of whom the oldest one has taken up art. Laxma’s six-year-old grandson also paints and has a learnt a trick or two from the artist.
Hyderabad market and future projects
At a time where artists go out of their way to seek publicity, Laxma Goud maintains that a genuine artist wouldn’t really need to do that. “I believe things work differently if you are in Delhi and Mumbai; and I guess there is nothing bad as long as you are not letting another artist down. But, I feel you don’t need self-promotion because your work will speak for you,” he says.
Hyderabad when compared to other cities like Delhi and Mumbai is a weaker market, But, Laxma surprises by saying that it’s a blessing in disguise. “Don’t you see? No buyers means no distraction and you are left to yourself doing what you love the most,” he says.
From participating in art camps to mentoring young talent, teaching is one aspect that Laxma Goud has always focused on. He was previously associated with University of Hyderabad for 15 years and is now associated with an experimental design for schools at the grass-root levels.
“Art is a form of communication, a communion with nature. These programmes are being implemented in villages. There is going to be an art camp soon with the first batch of students... whenever one of (Chippa) Sudhakar’s studios are ready.” he adds.