Great Personalities of India

V. N. Shenoy O’Key an Artist and Freedom Fighter of Karnataka

V. N. O’key was humanitarian, artistic merit, and a social activist. He is not generally known for his activism as he kept his profile low key throughout his life. He was a social activist to the core where his motto was ‘Service before Self’ till the end of his life.

Birth and Initial Days

V N Shenoy O’Key was born to T. Narasimha Shenoy and Sundaribai of Mulki. He was one of the 5 children of T. Narasimha Shenoy and Sundaribai and he studied until his early years in Mulki. He left Mulki at the young age of 15 and went to Mumbai to pursue art. He worked at a hotel of his relatives and studied at the Institute of Fine Arts. Later he enrolled for the J. J School of arts but did not complete his course as he plunged into the freedom struggle. 

At a young age, India’s freedom struggle was an uprising and O’key contributed to the freedom struggle with his art forms. During this period, he came in contact with Sane Guruji who was the famous writer, teacher, reformist, and social worker and he started drawing illustrations and sketches for Sane Guruji which is when he took the pen name O’Key.

Freedom Fighter

He was jailed for picketing during his learning period of JJ School of Arts where he came in contact with Yusuf Meher Ali who had interned for the Quit India Movement and was planning and scripting India’s Freedom Struggle which O’Key decided to help. 

He was a versatile artist who had painted for educational institutions, illustrations, and many such paintings for commercial purposes and had prepared a calendar for National Leaders for Dr. N.S. Hardikar and his Rashtreeya Swayamsevaka Dal.

O’Key and Yusuf worked day and night for the exhibition and 150 large paintings were presented in the museum which was inaugurated by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. The exhibition became an instant hit and was insanely popular in Mumbai. 

During his participation with Indian Independence, O’Key attended many meetings and conventions and no conventions or meetings were completed with his fine artwork.

Post Independence

O’Key was an avid traveler apart from being an artist. He withdrew his inspiration from nature and wildlife and loved to paint pictures of the Himalayan range, rivers, seas, oceans, and many such things. Post-independence he opened his studio and started his artistic dreams. 

He painted portraits of many nationalists, leaders, musicians, artists, politicians and when S.M Joshi turned 70, a volume of “Architects of Modern India” was released which contained 66 illustrations of personalities that were drawn by O’Key.

During the dark days of Emergency in the year 1975, O’key quietly fought underground where he drew the illustration of atrocities that drew attention internationally. 


O’Key was a simple man and remained a bachelor until the end of his life. He was lost in Bombay crowds as he suffered from Alzheimer’s and he was found in a collapsed condition in a public park. He was carried to Shantidham and then to Shantivan which is dedicated to Sane Guruji. Later he was taken to the home of senior citizens where he breathed his last.

Many of the earlier O’key works could not be retraced as he lived a simple life and did not promote his work commercially. 

[ Also Checkout: Freedom Fighters of Karnataka ]

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