Water Colour on Paper, 1946
15’’ x 13’’
Oil on Board 1946
16.5’’ x 12’’
Emergence of styles
Having had formal artistic training from the Sir J J School of Art, Bombay and later at the Academy Julian, Paris, Hebbar taught art at the J J School for many years and was sought after as an art mentor by several institutions. While his early works reflect an influence of the academic style as can be seen in ‘Lady from Kerala’, he belongs to the generation of painters who allowed themselves to be influenced by the world and tried to grapple with an art-world continually re-enunciating the art process. His later travels across the world especially to Europe and the Far East including Japan and Indonesia therefore had a significant influence on him that made him re-define his style, which became more globally encompassing, abstract and symbolic. The portraits reflect a more intimate and personal mode of the artist’s interaction with his contemporaries and the people in his world including anonymous faces who feature as familiar strangers in this kinship cluster as part of his experiential world. While Hebbar’s style evolved from the depictive towards an abstract style, the major medium of his works being oil on canvas, it was complemented by a equally robust body of work in the medium of the line drawing – a style now famous as the ‘Singing lines’ – a term attributed to his drawings by writer Mulk Raj Anand.
The most prominent contemporaries of Hebbar in Bombay were the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group of the time which included artists like F. N. Souza, S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, K. H. Ara, H. A. Gade, S. K. Bakre et al. Hebbar had grown up amidst a musical environment rich with folk performative traditions like Yakshagaana. His longstanding friendship with the cultural polyglot Dr. Shivrama Karanth who also hailed from the same region is well known while Charles Gerard, the dean of Sir J J School of Art Mumbai was a mentor to K K Hebbar who helped him find his individual style beyond mere technical skill.
The Artist’s Socio-Political World
Hebbar’s portraits reflect a different mode of artistic engagement with his world, displaying not only aesthetic concerns but also a larger socio-economic context under which the portraits and the people in the portraits existed.
The artist’s emergence is intrinsically linked to dedicated friendships and patronage that supports and makes possible an artist’s freedom and an artist’s voice to come to the fore. These portraits represent a set of government commissioned portraits of political leaders and patrons portrayed in moods that are quite domestic, intimate and non-formal.
His general aesthetic moves away from glorification of any ideal ‘personhood’ and strives to stay true to the contextual mood and state of mind of the subjects portrayed, be it the coupled portraits of the Broese family who were life-long patrons and collectors of Hebbar’s works, or the portraits of John F Kennedy and Pandit Nehru commissioned by the Times of India group for the Illustrated Weekly of India magazine, or the life-size portrait of Smt. Indira Gandhi which was made during her final days showing a vulnerable side of the national leader contrary to conventions of political portraiture.
pen and ink on paper
Poster Color on cardboard 1968
13’’ x 12’’
Oil on Canvas 1978
20’’ x 15’’
Oil on Canvas 1978
17.5’’ x 21.5
Rekha/ Rajani (Daughters of K K Hebbar) Oil on Canvas 1959
Hebbar’s wife Smt. Susheela Hebbar and mother Sitamma are portrayed within frames that include detailed elements marking their environment. For instance, in the portrait of Susheela Hebbar, a painting is depicted as resting in the background of the central figure and in the portrait of Sitamma, a tulsi katte in the courtyard can be seen in the backdrop. These portraits bring to the fore entire worlds, with the people associated within. These works reflect Hebbar’s shift from his focus on merely portraying the subject to portraying the subject along with the subject’s world as a whole.
Sitamma (Mother of K K Hebbar) Oil on Canvas Early 50’s 24’’ x 14.5’’