Born: 1942

Thota Vaikuntam - Paintings


Thota Vaikuntam was born in 1942 in Boorugupalli in the Karimnagar District within the Telengana, the heartland of Andra Pradesh. Notable for his portrayal of Telangana women, in a career that spanned nearly four decades, he has been regarded as one of the most prominent figurative painters of today.

Vaikuntam spent most of his childhood in the intensely rustic surroundings of Telangana. Within this rural cycle of life, Vaikuntam learned to appreciate the simplicity, beauty, and innocence of the village people. Home to weavers and farmers, his village, will be his constant source of inspiration throughout his career. Initially educated at Shatarajpalli, he move to the temple town of Vemulavada after a few years to continue his education. Though not a poor performer, he was never interested in his studies. He often set aside his books engrossed by the sound of temple music, rituals and festivities. It was not until his time at the Siricilla High School that Vaikuntam begin to uncover the depths of his imaginations. With the encouragement he received from his teacher, Ramacharaya, he started creating scenes in paper and costumes for performances for school functions, family weddings and village celebrations. Fascinated with art, his dreams were concentrated on a future as a musician, an actor or a painter.

Despite pressure to join the family business, he managed to gain his mother’s blessing to train as an artist. He joined the College of Fine Arts and Architecture in Hyderabad in 1960 determined to make a living through his art. What followed was a difficult period of instability and a long struggle for survival. Impoverished by circumstance, like most of his counterparts, Vaikuntam was unable to afford canvas or expensive paints. He had to stick to cheaper medium of charcoal, pencil, pen and ink. He used the reverse of bills, discarded works on paper by his seniors, occasionally even empty cigarette packet or newspaper. He depended on the generosity of his friends and took what odd jobs he could to keep himself going. His varied exposure and tenacity to earn his living through art would proved valuable in achieving his success later in life.

Reflecting this tumultuous period in his life, Andra Pradesh was going through a period of unrest between 1964 and 1969. This put a halt on his art studies. With the college closed and hardly any work, he decided to return to his village to complete his matriculation. In interim, his parents found him a bride in 1966, Suguna. This was an unrequited union that instigate self destructive pursuits in the 70s, not only was he unable to earn a living as an artist but his personal life was in turmoil. After ten long years, given the struggles and breaks, he received his diploma in painting in 1970.

Unable to make a headway as an artist, Vaikuntam, taught art to children in Hyderabad Bal Bhavan for 15 years. It was during this time that he started black and white drawings on erotic theme. He then went on to draw nudes called the ‘Woman Series’. For two decades, he continued to draw and paint without much recognition and appreciation. In 1971, on a fellowship from the Andra Pradesh Lalit Kala Akademi, he was able to refine his painting skills and learn printmaking under the artist-scholar K.G. Subramanyan. Upon earning the diploma, Vaikuntam toyed with the idea of abstraction.

Whilst attempting to discover his creative identity, Vaikuntam, joined other likeminded artists like Suryaprakash, Brahmam, and Manmohan Dutt, as they pondered over what make the European masters, like Picasso, Cezanne, and Van Gogh, so different from the rest. These sessions along with the influence of K. Laxma Goud, made him contemplate a new way of seeing and painting. “I realized that art was much more difficult than I had imagined. It made me realize how important it was to study ourselves, instead of always looking to the West. We have to take inspiration from our own surroundings. While people of the world are doing the copies of Picasso and Matisse, I have to look back to my village.”

In the early 1980s, while nursing his ailing mother, Vaikuntam spent long stretches of time in Boorugupalli where he perfected his draughtsmanship. In an attempt to immortalize her, he spent most of his time drawing things associated with her. From this sketches he produced a series of charcoal drawings called ‘The Doors’ and organized a solo exhibition. Relatively unknown, sale was mediocre. His mother died soon after and in the wake of his loss, a dark phase in his life ensued resulting into a serious illness and eventually a period of introspection.

At a turning point in his life, he started following a more disciplined routine. His wife joined him to start a family not long after. Slowly he started to take interest in the family and settled into family life. Concurrently, between 1978 to 1985, he started to work on films continuously. With the huge variety of themes and subjects, his art flourished. This was considered the most fecund and eventful of his life as an artist. While working on the film, “Palleturi Pillagada” (Village Lad), he arrived at the concept of his now famous women of Telangana. Notable for the womencentric universe of his work, Vaikuntam’s focal point of inspiration is his devotion to his beloved mother, Satyamma, which he fondly referred to as his fountain of creativity. He also drew inspiration extensively from women, primarily strong women and mother figures(…) These sketches soon came to include the priests, the teachers, the laborers and the farmers, usually in charcoal, or pen or ink with occasional watercolor. “I’ve taken from my people in Telangana. I draw them. I take my colors from them. I’ve taken details from their everyday lives, stylized them and make them look grand. That’s my intention.”2 His work bears a witness to his love for rural life, his innate knowledge for his subjects, and a desire to create a picture of the innocent world untouched and uncorrupted by ‘civilized’ society. Like many of his contemporaries, he has tried to seek a new inspiration in tradition and culture and has managed to develop his own personal style as embodied in his paintings of Telangana beauties.

Thota Vaikuntam - Artworks

People finally began to show interest. His first big break came when he introduced more colour into his work and concentrate on his now famous Telangana women. Accolades followed. He received an award for his paintings from Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal and later won the national award for art direction for ‘Daasi’. He started receiving commissions and request from far and near for his work. Invitations for shows in Indian metros and art centers around the world followed in quick succession. His work began to be exhibited extensively. 4 Often referred to as the man of vibrant spaces, he uses primary colors of the earth in depicting the rural landscapes and the chronicles of the people of Telangana. The endless spectrum of village life became his main theme and the modern concept of distortion as part of his style. His rich palette and easily recognizable faces and figures have given his artwork acceptability; paintings that are strikingly modern without any allegiance to anything usually associated with modernity.

After decades of evolution of his dusky icons, his quest to paint the perfect Telangana woman is still on. “As a man, I love a woman’s form and beauty(…)Hardworking and with a lot for physical energy. And their abiding innocence. For me art is important, intellectualizing their physically isn’t. I have never hidden the fact that I blatantly take from them my lines, colours from their bright saris, decorative designs, their static features, heavy lips and utterly dark complexion which is of enormous beauty. Without them, beauty would cease to exist. Their rustic simplicity holds enormous appeal and charm for me(…)Though it has taken me a whole lifetime of work, I am still working at getting her perfect.”

After toiling years after years in obscurity, today he is famous. His art is showcased both in India and abroad, he travels extensively along with his art shows and his paintings have become a status symbol. He lives in Hyderabad with his wife and three children.

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book Ragas: Inner Melodies of Thota Vaikuntam by Aditi De, Krishen Khanna, and SH Raza published by Timeless Books, New Delhi and AbMaa Publishing, Saket, New Delhi
Excerpts from the book Thota Vaikuntam by Sushma Bahl published by Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi


  • Hyderabad Art Society Award Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Academy, 1975-1977
  • ‘Mahakoshal Kala Samithi’, Madhya Pradesh Award from Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, India, 1979
  • Academy of Fine Arts Award, Kolkata, 1979
  • Chitra Kala Parishad Award, Bangalore, India , 1979
  • Hyderabad Art Society Award, Andhra Pradesh Lalit Kala Academy, 1982 & 1985
  • Biennale Award, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, 1988
  • National Award Art Direction of Film ‘Daasi’, 1989
  • National Award for Painting, 1993


  • Thota Vaikuntam
  • Rustic Ragas: Inner Melodies of Thota Vaikuntam
  • A Retrospective Book: Thota Vaikuntam
  • Thota Vaikuntam: The Man and His Women
  • Mukham, Study in Charcoals / Thota Vaikuntam

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