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A friend of the Abrol family-REKHA RAO HEBBAR

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

The lineage of art.

Take an artistic journey with the Hebbars.

Born in 1911, KK Hebbar, belonged to an artistic family; he studied at Sir J.J. School of Art from 1940-1945, and later at Académie Julian, Paris. In Paris, he developed his knowledge and appreciation for European modernism. Highly influencing the Indian Art History, Hebbar’s early works showcase his Kerala inspiration, where landscapes depict regions from Malabar and Tulu Nadu in India. His later artworks found their inspiration in the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy (art historian), Jain manuscripts, Rajput and Mughal miniature paintings, the Ajanta Caves paintings, Amrita Sher-Gil’s art amongst many others. Hebbar participated in several national and international art exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, São Paulo Art Biennial as well as the Tokyo Biennale.

His artistic practice harmoniously blended the traditional Indian forms with elements of Western art like surrealism and abstract art. Because of his strong social conscience, he focused on themes like poverty, hunger and the destruction wrought by war and the nuclear explosion. At the same time, he was also inspired by music and dance like Kathak and beautifully captured the grace of the dancers and performers in his paintings. Despite his exposure to Western sensibilities, Hebbar’s body of work heavily remained rooted in the folk traditions of India.

KK Hebbar, Two Drummers Old, 37" x 35", Oil on Canvas

Hebbar was honoured with several prestigious awards throughout his career, including the Padma Shri in 1961, Padma Bhushan by the President of India in 1989, and the Maharashtra Shasan Gourav Puraskar in 1990.

On the other side of the freedom struggle, Rekha Rao Hebbar was born in 1947 to an Independent India and by then, one of India’s renowned art master – KK Hebbar. She, as a person, was influenced not only by her surroundings and socialistic ideas prevalent at the time but also by her father. Her education in History and Ancient Indian Art & Religion from Elphinstone college shaped her artistic prowess along with a year as an external student at Sir J.J. College of Art. She fondly acknowledges her father as her guru who uniquely taught her art, which involved seeing, observing, and analysing.

Rekha Hebbar Rao, Tapestry, 24 x 24 in, Oil on canvas

Rekha refers to herself as a colourist! Colour forms the core of her paintings, within which there are recognisable elements, whereas some are hidden. The viewer, however, needs to recognise emotion in the paintings as easily or naturally as one senses the passing of a breeze. Her works are often half-told tales, allusive, sometimes enigmatic. Of this, she says, “There is no need to look too eagerly for signs of the recognisable, but rather recognise an emotion as one senses the coming of a breeze...” Often joyful, the surface playfulness belies a sharp intellect and considered reflections on social causes and movements, and the forces of history. ‘Let colours speak to you as inexplicably as music’, KK Hebbar impressed on her, and Rekha did. Slowly, systematically, she built up a vocabulary of colour, which has the strength to carry the weight of her mature vision and work.

At the heart of her artistic practice was her relationship with her father. KK Hebbar taught her how to apply paint on the canvas, but refused to more than nudge her into finding her vision. Yet Rekha recalls how every painting she saw, every exhibition she attended, every canvas she painted was discussed with her father, KK Hebbar. With such an intense relationship, Rekha managed to untangle the skeins of her independent development as a gifted artist, from that of the loving daughter of one of India’s most eminent artist, who also happened to be her artistic mentor. There was a delicate balance in the relationship, interdependence, and a subtle creative exchange.

Her view ceaselessly refreshed my artistic perspective. - KK Hebbar

For Rekha, her father was a teacher, a sounding board, and a gentle critic, encouraging and motivating her. She fondly states, “He was full of praise and never touched or corrected my work. Now and then, he would go through the when I was not around, keep the good paintings, and discard the rest.” Rekha made her own choices and changes, which brought about resistance and distance; yet, the closeness of the relationship, both artistic and personal, never faltered.

Rekha Hebbar Rao, Boat, Oil on canvas, 35 x 57 in.

An artist, a mentor, and a teacher, Hebbar always did more than his role as an artist, transforming into an active patron. He was involved with the inception and growth of numerous art and cultural institutions across the length and breadth of India, 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 and inspirations, out of which travel would be one of his greatest influence, but his muse was the richness of Indian culture – folklore, local dance and music and of course, the people. His artworks can be viewed as a documentation of the life, events and times he experienced, as an artist in post-colonial India. His affinity for dance comes from the fact that Hebbar himself was a trained Kathak dancer and had studied the dance form for many years.

Image Credit - Bid & Hammer KK. Hebbar, Untitled (FOLK DANCER), 29 x 21.1 in & Untitled (DRUMMER), 29.5 x 21.5 in Pen & ink on paper

K.K. Hebbar, the artist who arguably put India on the world map for art, back in the 1950s, spent many years travelling and several in Mumbai but remains an icon in the Karnataka art scene. He spent his early years in South Karnataka and eventually donated his collection of works to Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru. In 1993, the KK Hebbar Art Foundation was set up to promote young talents. With Hebbar’s passing on in 1996, the Foundation continues to grow and is nurtured by his children, Rekha Hebbar Rao, Rajani Prasanna and Ranna Hebbar. Over the last two decades and more, the foundation has supported many artists and their projects. Through the foundation, the Hebbar legacy continues to fortify and propel the artistic journeys of many deserving artists.

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