By Shriram Khadilkar
An artist’s work space is his private lair. In this era of tech gizmos and virtual connect, we take you back in time to film-maker, painter-sculptor, legendary Baburao Painter’s studio in Kolhapur, which was the epitome of comfort and tech-convenience in the early 20th century.
Maharashtrian legend, Shri Baburao Mestri, popularly known as Baburao Painter (named after his exceptional painting skill) is revered with the title of ‘Kalamaharshi’. He was a great film maker, master painter, eminent sculptor and expert designer. Fifty-six years after his death, today, his studio in Kolhapur is well maintained by his family members - well equipped, as it stands, with modern technology and advance amenities. We can say that not a single artist in our country has a studio as equipped as Baburao Painter’s.
Baburao Painter was very much impressed by the studios of some of the European artists of his times. He had dreamed that one day he will have a studio of similar or superior status. And, it was not long before his dream turned in reality. Baburao built his house when he was in his early 50’s; and he did so as per his personal set of specifications. A ground plus two storey structure, the house hosted Baburao’s sculpture studio and a kitchen on the ground floor; family quarters on the first floor and another spacious studio on the second floor.
The general observation in those days was that while working on a huge sized canvas, the artist had to step up on scaffolding, or spread the canvas horizontally on the ground – an option less rampant due to space constraints. To avoid the climbing exercise, Baburao designed the floor of his studio such that he could easily paint the upper portion of the canvas while sitting in his studio on the second floor. And at that time, the rest of the canvas would hang from the ceiling of the first floor, suspended via a pulley in the ceiling of his studio. It was with the help of this pulley, that he could adjust the suspended canvas at his desired height.
There was little that the man did not apply his genius to. Baburao was an expert at carpentry too. He designed his own easel in such a way that he could adjust the height of the canvas without touching it. Applying the right technology was instrumental. He had two clutches crafted - one to lift the canvas vertically upwards; and the other to bring it down. He also designed a special table to store oil colours and brushes with a special provision to house the palate as is. A flap covered the opening and just as one opened the flap, the palate would pop up! And the table was portable too. Its little wheels could take it around the studio at will and ease.
Attention to detail was another marked quality of the man who made great strides in the field of art and culture in the early 20th century. His entire studio had wooden flooring; and there was ample natural light flooding the studio. To maximize the quotient of natural light, he had windows positioned in the north wall and a skylight positioned in the sloping Mangalore-tiled roof. A curtain was strategically placed to blotch out the harsh sunlight, whenever required.
This is the story of early 20th century. Not a single artist of today has designed his equipments like Baburao did. This is the reality of the start of the 21st century.
Baburao Painter is one of the great artists who gave Kolhapur the synonym ‘Kalapur’. Baburao painted thousands of his works in this studio. These works may presently be occupying pride of place, decorating the walls of some museums, enriching the collection of art collectors.
But alas! His beautifully maintained studio does not host even a single of his works.