K.K. Hebbar spent many years travelling and several in Mumbai, but remains an icon in the Karnataka art scene. He spent his early years in North Karnataka and eventually, donated his collection of works to Venkatappa Art Gallery here in Bengaluru. This week, India Heritage Walks will host an art experience examining the life and works of Hebbar, the artist who arguably put India on the world map for art, back in the 1950s. Namitha, who will conduct the walk, he is an unsung pioneer of art in India.
A mentor and a teacher, Hebbar always went beyond his role as an artist, transforming into an active patron. He was involved with the inception and growth of a number of art and cultural institutions, including the prestigious Jehangir Art Gallery, along with others in Baroda, Kolkata and Mumbai. Having travelled extensively across the world, and drawing inspiration from his daily life and environment, Hebbar’s work is an amalgamation of influences.
Travel would be his greatest influence, but his muse came from the richness of Indian culture – folklore, local dance and music and of course, the people. His works can be seen as a documentation of the life and times he experienced, as an artist in post-colonial India. “K.K. Hebbar is the embodiment of staying connected one’s roots despite such a varied range of influences,” says Namitha.
His affinity for dance comes from the fact that Hebbar himself was a trained Kathak dancer and had studied the form for many years. “Hebbar brought the rhythm from his dancing feet to his brush strokes,” says Namitha. He is perhaps best known for his nimble line drawings, which were minimal in their approach but which encompass movement and energy. These are famously referred to as his Singing Lines. These influences informed his work deeply.
Through his work and his travels, Hebbar held a number of solo shows across India and participated in the Biennales in Venice and Sao Paolo. He went on to become a representative of Indian art heritage across the world, especially at a time of tumult here, as the country remained gripped in the throes of its struggle for freedom.
Hebbar was born over a century ago but his practice and ethos are timeless. Today, travelogue sketches are dime-a-dozen on social media, especially Instagram, as young people rush to document their own journeys. “Hebbar did the same thing, travelling to Indonesia, Germany, France and so on. Isn’t it fascinating to see how old practices have adapted to new media,” asks Namitha. One of these ‘travelogues’ will be on display during the course of the Walk.
Hebbar always opposed the harsh commercialization of art, which resulted in him donating his artworks to Venkatappa Art Gallery in 1993, a few years before his passing.
India Heritage Walks will also screen a documentary on the life of the artist, apart from a curated selection of books about Hebbar.
What: India Heritage Walks, the life of K.K. Hebbar
When: Sept. 8, 10.30 am
Where: Venkatappa Art Gallery, Kasturba Road