Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Inlay Marquetry Artist R Puttaraju

R. Puttaraju
Pioneer of relief technique in wood collage and marquetry

His inlays and portraits in wood collage inspires wonder in the mind of onlooker. His various artefacts done in relief technique in wood collage reach out to the beholder. He was the first to make human portraits in wood collage. He pioneered the relief technique which is widely popular. He is R. Puttaraju.

Born to the pious christian couple Richard and Joan Mary in Mulloor, a non-descript village near Kollegal, Puttaraju had his primary education in his village and later studied up to 10th standard at Kollegal.

Every Sunday Puttaraju went to St. Francis Assisi Church at Kollegal; here the beautiful statues of Madonna, St. Antony and Jesus Christ, and oil paintings depicting various biblical stories left an indelible impression on the mind of young lad. The Sunday classes at the church turned out to be the very first platform for his artistic talent. He was asked to draw the sketches of biblical stories to be used as illustrations during the class.  These drawings caught the eye of a German priest, father Handy Kohrt, and he encouraged the lad to draw more.

Two years later Fr. Kohrt moved to Mysore's Philomena college; he pursuaded Raju's parents and made him come to Mysore in 1956. Father sent young Raju to Chamarajendra Technical Institute. 17 year old Puttaraju couldn't gain entry into the fine art course because he was younger, than the stipulated age, by one year. Wishing not to waste a year he took up the inlay certificate course, instead, which didn't mandate minimum age limit. His talent helped him to finish the 5 years' course in just four years. He was deeply impressed by his inlay teacher Latif during these four years. Still, his love for painting hadn't died down. He took up another five year diploma course in fine arts at CTI. So much was his hunger for art, that, he once again completed the course with a year to spare. He stood first in the class all four years. His teachers F.M. Soofi, Y. Subramanya Raju and the Principal M.J. Shuddodhana greatly influenced his creativity.

His passion for drawing proved to be a great gift for his acquired skill of inlay. He could perform all the tasks of inlay single handedly. Making the sketches, choosing the different coloured wood, cutting them into desired shape, scooping the rosewood plank, embedding the cut wooden pieces into those shallow pits, detailing by engraving and finally the scraping and polishing. He could do each and every aspect of inlay which usually required the skills of 6-7 persons. He was equally good at wood collage or marquetry.

All the while he was getting nostalgic about the church back home in Kollegal; its beautiful relief panels of biblical characters were etched into his mind and were tugging at his creativity. He wanted to create something new in inlay like those relief panels - two dimensional in whole but jutting out of its limiting surface, as if to reach out for the onlooker, at places. He extensively experimented with wood collage and finally in 1968 created a panel 'Submission with devotion'. This was the first ever relief work in wood collage; it fetched him the coveted first prize at the Mysore Dasara Exhibition.

Puttaraju's friend who went to Madras coaxed Puttaraju to join him. Thus Puttaraju came to Madras in 1969 and was supplying his inlay creations to Victoria Technical Institute. He worked in Madras Film industry as an assistant art director from 1972-80.

Puttaraju took up inlay work full time and set up a small workshop in Madras with 8-10 assistants. He has trained nearly 60 students, among whom many were Mysoreans. Some 7 students of his have got State awards. In 1993 Puttaraju returned to Mysore and in 1995 he married Philomena who was working as a teacher; she hailed from the neighbouring village of his native.

Puttaraju pioneered the relief technique in wood collage which is now widely popular. He has done inlay of coloured stones on marble stone slab. He has perfected the technique of portraits in inlay. He is very good at sketching, drawing and painting. During his student days he was known in the friend circle as the portrait specialist.

In 2003 a person took all of Puttaraju's works promising to pay handsomely but he neither paid not returned the artefacts. His house at Tilaknagar, workshop and a thriving business of inlay handicrafts, everything was lost during that financial crisis. Now Puttaraju lives in a rented house and along with his wife and three assistants is limping back to normalcy.

In 1980 the selection committee for National award rejected the entry of Puttaraju's 'Mother and Child' panel. Disappointed by the rejection Puttaraju never applied for the award again.

When he was away at Madras he got an invitation from Chicago which was sent to St. Philomena's hostel at Mysore. The invitation was from the NRI, who had bought his first relief work at Dasara Exhibition, to come to Chicago and teach his technique there. He got that invitation a year and a half too late.

The life of Sri R. Puttaraju has been paved with thorns at regular intervals. Disappointments, missed opportunities and financial losses have bogged him down time and again. But a strong spirit to survive has helped him to reinvent himself in the face of adversities. Every time he was left in the lurch his talent and creativity have got him sail through.

Puttaraju was honoured with Rotary Ramsons Kala Pratishtana Award in June 2005. In 2008 he received the coveted Rajyotsava Award honours from the state government of Karnataka.