As the cultural capital of Karnataka, Mysuru is known for its art institutes. The moment an art or a cultural centre comes up in city, you find people thronging it to see what they will get to learn if they join the institute. Be it painting, music, dance, theatre, sculpture, craft, mosaic art and Mysore style painting, Mysuru has always played host to institutes that act as a melting pot for creative minds. In this article, Senior Journalist N. Niranjan Nikam profiles ‘Artz’ and the brain behind it. Now read on. —Ed
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Sitting in the spacious showroom and turning the pages of a photo album, the sketches and line drawings of the mudras and paintings she had done more than 25 years ago and preserved all these years, the gracious, calm and composed Manavatira Shoba Subbaiah turns nostalgic. She runs ‘Artz’ Studio at Solitaire Building in Gokulam III Stage.
The paintings of Omar Khayyam, Radhakrishna, Bhagavad Gita, other mythological figures, landscapes, tigers, the Mysore traditional painting of Rama’s Pattabhisheka, Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings, all adorn the walls of the ‘Artz’ studio-gallery.
As she begins to wonder what would have happened if she had turned the corner plot in one of the most happening places in Mysuru, where people from all parts of the world descend to learn yoga into a furnished serviced apartment, instead of a place now designed for creative minds of all ages to explore, the artist in her speaks: “I am very happy that my husband and I took the right decision, listening to our inner voice and set up this ‘Artz’ studio.”
Where did it all begin for this lady with the artistic bent right from a very young age?
Shoba Subbaiah recalls the time her mother Mohini M. Shetty, who herself was very artistic and talented, used to take her to all the drawing competitions organised by various voluntary organisations. “My dad’s job took us to Mysuru from Mangaluru. I studied at Sunanda’s School where there were only 18 students in my class,” she said.
Unlike many parents in those days or even today who push their children to study engineering or medicine, Shoba’s father M.D. Kurady and mother asked her to follow her heart. “I did my B.Com at Mahajana’s College, simultaneously pursuing an art course and passing drawing exams,” she said.
One day she saw an advertisement in Star of Mysore announcing apprenticeship training in Mysore traditional painting by the Handicrafts Marketing and Service Extension Centre, in the year 1990. “The intention of the Central Government was very good as it wanted to revive the traditional Mysore painting which was a dying art. Only ten seats were available and the stipend was Rs. 800. I just applied and got the seat,” said Shoba with a gleam in her eyes.
The one person she fondly remembers is Kuppachari, the drawing teacher, who used to teach apprentices from morning till evening passionately. This passion for the art which was already there in her rubbed off more as she began to do sketches, line drawings, mudras in un-ruled and long-notebooks which she preserves till this day and showed it to this writer, lovingly turning the pages and said, “I show these books to my students to tell them how much hard work goes into making a good artist.”
By then she had got a job in Bata India in Calcutta and surprisingly it was eight months before she could go and join the work. “It suited me perfectly that this training also came up which I really made use of. It was then I went to Bangalore and trained under another great artiste Subbramanya Raj Urs. I was selected from Mysore for this camp and there was the famous Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich, who used to visit Chitra Kala Parishat, where this training was being conducted. The interactions with him still remain etched in my mind,” she fondly recalls.
She then went and joined Bata in Calcutta. Initially she underwent training in Batanagar and she excelled in all the three areas — shoe engineering, window display and fashion designing. “Who asked you to be so good?” the trainer there had exclaimed! “I chose window display and as everyone remembers, “To school with Bata and Christmas displays,” are very popular and after working in Calcutta for two years I wanted to be closer home and came to Bangalore to choose window stylist’s job and took care of Bata Shops in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka,” she said.
Shoba left for Dubai in 1993 and straight away got into the act. There was a window display contest for sun glasses Ray Ban and Bosch and Lomb and her display won the first place in UAE. Then she got into retail visual merchandising and here, by word of mouth, people started recommending her and hence she worked for companies like BinHendi and international brands like Boss, Porsche Design, Patchi Chocolates, Calvin, The One, interior decorators.
“I have lived for the last 22 years in UAE and they are great people to work with. Dubai is a melting pot of cultures from different parts of the world and opportunities in creativity never cease there,” she said.
She has also done interiors for Dubai airport and also three air shows, apart from paintings for New Medical Centre hospitals, owned by B.R. Shetty in Abu Dhabi. She also did a portrait of Shetty who was her first boss and who encouraged her in all her creative endeavours. She has been actively involved in Dubai art scene and children’s workshops at schools and activity centres.
“My mother would always tell me, ‘don’t say I will not learn. Try to learn everything. Even if you forget it does not matter.’ Today, her advice is helping me. I always felt that I should come back to Mysuru and do something creative that would also involve Mysureans,” said Shoba. The ‘Artz’ gallery with the tag-line “Experience Your Spirit,” is moving in that direction. Even as she shares her thoughts, there is a youth from Yelwal, Y.S. Puneeth, 26, who is making copies of the Raja Ravi Verma paintings, even as an elderly lady from Bengaluru is learning the Tanjavoor style painting, wanting to gift it to her daughter-in-law. “Shoba has inspired me and hence I come twice a week to learn,” says the lady, with a broad smile.
A Russian dancer who comes to Mysuru to learn yoga walked into the studio even as the classes were on for children and promised to return and teach them hip hop, she said. A young man from Delhi came and just started painting Gitopadesa for the first time and it was sheer magic. “We were stunned that he was doing it for the first time,” exclaimed Shoba.
It is a full floor dedicated to dance drama and music where one can find traditional, western dance, instrumental and vocal music artistes performing and teaching children. “I want this place to be a real melting pot of various crafts. The young ladies Neha and Vatsala teach crafts for kids and I encourage everyone to come and perform at our spacious hall on the second floor. Raag Milan, a classical music concert, was held here last month and it was by invitation and it had good response, all by word of mouth,” she exults.
Shoba also had an opportunity to be trained under Ganjifa Raghupathi Bhat in Ganjifa art, a rare traditional art form. Shoba goes back to the time when she, as an apprentice, learnt the Mysore traditional painting. But sadly reflects that the other nine who had also been selected are not to be seen or heard.
Every day is different for Shoba and after a year of experimenting at her new studio, she has come full circle and her doors are open for one more creative hub that includes music, dance, painting, reading club, sculpture, craft and mosaic art, in the cultural capital of the State.
[Shoba can be contacted on Ph:0821-2511628 or Mob: 96323-01628].