Artists

Published in Catalogue of the show “Amar Nath Sehgal: Selected Sculptures, Graphics and Drawings 1947-1972”, National Gallery of Modern Art, 1972.

Sehgal explained his creative conceptual convictions in 1961: “The problem concerning the sculptor is chiefly to construct in material the form that conveys a mood, a feeling and an attitude. But when the feelings are not clear and well defined, when they lie dormant in the conscious mind, it is through hard and concentrated effort that they are diagnosed and their meaning properly understood.” Further he added: “But whenever the emotional experience is quite vivid, I start the work with a definite concept about the form so that it conveys the meaning for which it is intended - as in the sculpture ‘Cries Unheard’ [cat. No. 8] where I conceived a crying groaning family emaciated through suffering and privations struggling to be heard. Sometimes I get to work just for the joy of dabbling and concern myself chiefly with the material in hand. Creating compositions in a variety of form is in itself aesthetically satisfying to me.” (Sehgal Amarnath: Sculpture Becoming, “Indian Sculpture,” 1961, p. 16, Bombay, Indian Sculptor’s Association).

These theoretical manifestations, based on over two decades of sustained creative pursuits, serve as a basis to stylistically classify Sehgal’s sculptures, by and large, into four main groups: Cubist (e.g. cat. Nos. 6, 12 and 14), Expressionist (e.g. cat. Nos. 5, 8, 20 and 68), Surrealist (e.g. cat. nos. 3, 26, 40 and 44), and Abstract (e.g. cat. nos. 30, 58, 71 and 72). Congenial to his amiable personality, his favourite media are clay, ceramic and bronze - docile, susceptible and fluid - rather than wood (barring a few exceptions) and stone - more challenging and resistible.

Art historically, Sehgal partly owes to Alberto Giacometti (compare the compositional arrangement of Sehgal’s Dance of Death, 1962, cat. no. 25, with Giacometti’s City Square, 1948), Max Ernst (compare Sehgal’s Design for a Monument, 1959, cat. no. 9, with Earnst’s bronze sculptures, such as, Moon Mad, created around 1944-45), Pablo Picasso (compare the head of Sehgal’s Figure, 1960, cat. no. 12, with that of Picasso’s Nude with the Towel, 1907), and Jean Arp (compare the pulsating bulbous forms of Sehgal’s lost sculptures, such as Shiva - the Dancer, 1950, cat. no. 91 and Green Woman, 1949, cat. no. 90 with Arp’s Torso with Buds, 11961, and Intertwined concretion, 1958; or Sehgal’s Form, 1971, cat. nos. 70 and 71 with Arp’s Torso, 1934).

Sehgal has created major successful Abstract (cat. no. 76) and Surrealist (cat. nos. 15, 26 and 92) sculptures; nevertheless, his matiere is revealed in the Expressionist ones (cat. nos. 8 and 68). Expressionist tendencies fascinate him so much that even some of his Surrealist sculptures echo expressionist elements (e.g. cat. nos. 13, 33 and 40), and his mature drawings - even with the Surrealist and Abstract shapes - are rendered in Expressionist style. Whereas his desire to emphasize the essence impels him to capture the metamorphosis of conceptual or therianthropic reality (cat. nos. 15, 17 and 48), his deep concern with human miseries, pathos and struggle for survival in nature motivates him to exaggerate and add symbolic elements (cat. nos. 8 and 37). For example, his sculpture Flight, 1960 (cat. no. 15), conveys the feeling and idea of flight without directly associated with, or portraying any specific features of a bird or of a supernatured being, such as, an angel. Similarly, other sculptures, such as, Floating, 1970, or Floating Nymph, 1972 (cat. nos. 63 and 48 respectively) cannot be identified with any particular species of fish or other living or imagined celestial creatures which could swim or float in water, or air; nevertheless, their forms do no connote the feeling of floating. On the other hand, the distortions and exaggerations noticeable in The Cynic, 1961 and Determination, 1961 (cat. nos. 19 and 20 respectively), contribute to grasp abstract properties, associated with persons having such qualities. In the same way, accentuated gestures, such as, raised hands and howling faces of Cries Unheard, 1958, or kneeling and bowing of handcuffed persons - symbolizing the submission of oppressed ones - in front of the mighty ruler (Tyranny of Colonialism, 1958, cat. no. 5) powerfully denote the feelings of misery, struggle for survival and exploitation.

In another group of sculptures, such as, The Charge, 1955 (cat. no. 3), Struggle, 1962 (cat. no. 26), Rape, 1959 (cat. no. 80) and Dragon, 1963 (cat. no. 88), Sehgal has also successfully combined human and animal forms to depict the passions of man and nature. These sculptures force us to admit our conflicts and weaknesses, to perceive them and to be stirred by them, at least somewhere in the remote corners of our beings. The amalgamation of human and animal elements have yielded interesting shapes - at times even pure and primeval - capable of ensuring the alliance of elongated or curvilinear rhythm with strength and grace, or force and brutality, as may be necessary.

Quite often, Sehgal is captivated by the same theme or motif for years, which leads to an intensive search, yielding variations. In this regard, his sculpture Anguished Cries, 1971 (cat. no. 68) is the example par excellence. Sehgal has been preoccupied with the idea of this work since 1958 (see People, 1958, cat. no. 7) and has found solace in its substance to such an extent that these very mask like, howling faces were again used as an important element in his monumental sculpture Monument to Communal Unity, 1969 (cat. no. 77). Literary and associational elements, which play important roles in Sehgal’s sculptures, not only assist to understand the nuances of his major works, but also bring them closer even to the general public. Thus, he caters the need of both - a handful of professionals, intellectuals and social elites, on the one hand; and the general public, on the other.

In fact, the directness, vivid expressive quality, the potential of his work to be able to communicate even with the lay man and his eminence as a sculptor, especially in India, and his several exhibitions abroad, have inspired to arrange this exhibition in order to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of our Independence.

Published in Catalogue of the show “Amar Nath Sehgal: Selected Sculptures, Graphics and Drawings 1947-1972”, National Gallery of Modern Art, 1972.

Keywords: Amar Nath Sehgal, Laxmi Prasad Sihare, National Gallery of Modern Art, Lalit Kala Contemporary, Surrealism, Expressionism, Abstract, Cubism, Affinities, Indian Modern Sculpture, Indian Modern Artist.

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