Artists

Catalogue text published by Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited, 1991.

The massive sculpture (20’ x 16’ x 5’) Nagji Patel has carved for the circular traffic island of Fatehgunj crossing at Baroda is arguably the largest modern Indian sculpture in stone. Designed as a pair of banyan trees forming a gateway, its monumental arboreal columns pay homage to the city of banyans after which it is named. Set on a raised hillock topped with an old neem tree, the sculptural torana will serve as a befitting creative and environmental landmark of the city.

In order to find a stone suitable to correspond to the image of an organic, living tree form, the sculptor scanned the quarries and stoneyards of the country for months before settling on Jodhpur sandstone.

The pinkish, flesh-hued stone, firm yet resilient appropriately carries the gravity and warmth of a banyan’s trunks and its luxuriant mass of foliage. Like the tree motif, its surface is receptive to change in weather and time. Bright and glowing when dry, its porous skin assumes a deep wheat-coloured complexion when drenched. The change of light from morning to evening will reveal many of its hidden aspects.

The sculptor made several drawings and moulded the initial form in clay and plaster before embarking upon carving. And here lies the story of a subtle yet decisive process of transformation a sculptural form goes through. Modelling in clay or plaster differs basically from the process of carving. In these materials the body of form is built by adding, while carving removes chunks shrouding a concealed form within. A great deal of Indian sculpture conceived in clay and carved in stone carries the twin qualities of containing and bursting forth of energy associated with the concept of the life numen resident in the elements of nature. The energy of germination and growth of a seed into shooting trunks surmounted with a crown laden with succulent leaves and fruits, evident in this sculptural gateway, refers to that archetypal principle. It however, changes the conventional concept into a contemporary statement by turning the arboreal motif into a heralding metaphor. The leaning, whispering twosome of trees harbouring in its foliage animal and avian life that usually nest and rest in its shade, serves as a potent symbol of a peacable universe. The carving, transport and installation of the monumental sculpture weighing 34 tons involved skill and elaborate planning. The 24 blocks of stone carved independently were first joined in groups of two before the final assembly on the site. The precise alignment of carved surfaces was worked out meticulously by the sculptor aided by a group of assistants. So was the transport and successful mounting of the sculpture on a specially built base with engineering assistance from IPCL.

The idea and execution of installing creative sculptures at traffic islands is an exemplary one. One fervently hopes other cities will follow the same route. The role of a public sector enterprise like IPCL in sponsoring and commissioning such a project is equally praiseworthy. Most significant however, is the unique vision and tireless effort of Nagji Patel, the self-effacing sculptor who has given his city (and contemporary Indian art) a lasting legacy to cherish.

Nagji Patel was born in 1937 at Juni Jithardi near Karjan in Baroda district in a family of farmers. His education and training in sculpture at the Faculty of Fine arts (M.S. University), Baroda, became a turning point in his life. In the initial years after completing his studies he taught art to children and set the tone for teaching creative arts in the schools of Baroda. He began to show his work in prestigious exhibitions and participated in sculptor’s camps during the period. He toured sites of stone quarries throughout the country on a Government of India scholarship to learn the qualities of stones and techniques of carving, both traditional and contemporary. Eventually he chose marble as a principle medium and became known as an outstanding sculptor.

Nagji Patel has participated in a number of important exhibitions in India and abroad, notably the national Exhibitions and the Triennale, New Delhi; the Biennale at Sao Paolo, Brazil (1967); Antwerp, Belgium (1975); Baghdad, Iraq (1986); and the Festival of India exhibitions at London and Tokyo. He was invited to show his sculptures at the Open Air Exhibitions at Olympic Park, Seoul, Korea, during the Olympiad in 1988.

Nagji Patel has served as one of the commissioners for the IVth Triennale (1978), and compiled an exhibition of contemporary Indian sculpture in Namibia and Zimbabwe (1991) for the ICCR. He has also organised national and international art camps at IPCL in Baroda where he works as an Art Advisor. He has toured Eastern Europe, Iraq, Japan and Africa.

His monumental sculptures are permanently installed at Seoul Olympic Park, Korea, Azendjelovac in Yugoslavia, Mure in Japan, IPCL Complex and Fatehgunj traffic crossing in Baroda. Other collections include the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal and private collections in India and abroad. He lives and works in his personal studio in Baroda.

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