CHENNAI: Janaki Hrishikesh, a Chennai resident, still remembers the first painting she brought. “It was a scene of Krishna’s rasaleela. We had just bought a house and were looking to decorate it. The painting practically drew us to it,” she says.
Back then, in 1997, she paid Rs 1,500 for the piece, which measures 12” by 36”. Over the years, she has decorated her home with varied forms of art — from paintings and murals to masks, applique and embroidered works.
Until a couple of decades back, art was considered the forte of the rich, especially those who lived in big houses with ample space to display their collections. The scene has changed considerably — now, even middle-class, salaried families are keen to invest in art. Moreover, spending has increased as well. Janaki says she spends up to Rs 10,000 for a painting, and up to Rs 2,000 on a craft item such as a mask if it is exceptional. She adds that she is willing to put down even Rs 50,000 to Rs one lakh for pieces made of marble or wood
Viji Nagashwaram, owner of Vinnyasa Premier Art Gallery in Mylapore, says appreciation for art has taken definitely taken root in Chennai, with younger people looking to invest in pieces that catch their fancy. “Since people in the South are more traditional and conservative, they show a lot of interest in figuratives, landscapes — the kind of art that they can appreciate and understand,” she says. Sculptures, she adds, are not as popular as paintings.
To make “art more accessible for all art lovers,” she started the ‘Affordable Art Show’ 14 years back, and has been conducting it in May and June every year since. Pieces by young and upcoming artists are featured; prices start from around Rs 1,500 and are capped at Rs 20,000 (prices are lower than the regular market rates). The fact that the number of new customers has increased each year, and that visitors are now more knowledgeable about artists and styles in general, is indicative of the growth in awareness about, and appreciation of, art. During the rest of the year, the gallery features works by accomplished artists from all over India, which range from a few thousands to a couple of lakhs of rupees. “In the past, people would buy articles made from silver or gold to give as gifts. Now, they are buying paintings to give as gifts,” says Viji.
Real estate developers are also showing interest in this field. A recent exhibition by AnYahh!!, a Delhi-based art gallery, was sponsored by Appaswamy Real Estates Ltd. T.S.S. Krishnan, Chief Executive Officer of Appaswamy, says the company was drawn by the “idea that art is gaining ground” among home owners, and used it as an opportunity to showcase the company’s latest projects.
Paintings and sculptures apart, even furniture and utility items can be customised to double up as pieces of art. Revathi Ramakrishnan, owner of Tanjore Creations, says her customers often request for “something different”. She uses gold and coloured stones — signature elements of traditional Tanjore art — to decorate swings, dining tables, chairs, mirrors, magazine holders and clocks. “Some people even asked for a decorative piece that could be used to cover the meter board,” she says. Most of the pieces are created on a custom basis, depending on the size of the house and the space in which the piece will be kept.
Quality is what customers today are looking for, she says, not a cheaper price tag. “Some people ask us for teakwood pillars embellished with stones and gold leaf, or carvings — these cost between Rs 45,000 and Rs one lakh. Even those who live in flats want such fittings in their homes, especially near the entrance.” For the navarathri season, she made golu padis or readymade steps from teakwood, for displaying dolls, which are embellished with carvings and gold leaf. “When navarathri is over, they can dismantle the steps and use them as bookshelves,” she says. Murals are also gaining popularity, especially among those who have a garden or balcony in their homes. And requests don’t just come from local residents — non-resident Indians are also asking for works that they can transport back home. For example, one of Revathi’s most expensive commissioned works (around Rs 3 lakh) was for a customer based in the US.
Tips for the novice collector
For first-time art buyers, investing in a good piece may seem a daunting task. Given that the painting or decorative piece is going to adorn the home for many years, it’s a good idea to spend time and effort before making a choice. “I would advise that an art (work) has to please the heart of the buyer. He (or she) has to appreciate and like it the more and more he sees it, for he has to live, love and grow with it,” says Viji Nagashwaram.
Revathi advises her customers to keep the space constraints of their home in mind when they go shopping. “Don’t make the space too cramped,” she says.
Bright colours can liven up a room, says Janaki, but these should be balanced against an earthy palate. “If not, it will end up looking tacky,” she adds.