An article on this talented artist appeared in the SILPI sometime back and this month the editors are reproducing some photographs of Khastgir’s sculptures. They are just a few but they are representative enough to help one to appreciate the artist’s aims and achievements. Also they cover a wide period of his work and so will help one to judge the ‘development,’ if I may say so, of the artist from his earlier to mature days. Sudhir is in a class by himself and seems to owe very little to teachers or traditions. Yet he has been an ardent art student and has deeply meditated on our art heritage. Is he modern or is he traditional? This is perhaps not so easy to answer for the two kind gentlemen who have written about him in his portfolio of “SCULPTURES” seem to hold divergent views themselves. Mr. O.C Gangooly says in his foreword that Khastgir’s “vision and outlook are characteristically modern and it is difficult to trace in his works any influences or inspiration from the traditional schools of ancient India”. But Major M.W. Lee in his appreciative Introduction thinks his work “is essentially Indian in both subject and technique” and that hence “his style is essentially Indian”. “In many ways”, says Major Lee, “his art remains traditional”. Where such experts differ the layman is at liberty to form his own opinion. Sudhir’s works are so unlike anything traditional that it will be difficult for one even to imagine in them traces of the legendary silpi’s handiwork. Still they are not actually Western or in other words modern. The fact is Sudhir thinks as an Indian but works as a Western. There is no harm in that and I don’t see any reason why many of our artists should strive to be known as traditional when they could as easily establish a reputation in other styles.
No one could deny that Sudhir’s works are masterpieces. They are not the same as the work of the Stapati’s. But Sudhir is just as much Indian as much Indian as many of his confreres are who claim to be so. To Sudhir the style or manner is only secondary. An inspiration comes to him, an urge impels him and he immerses himself at once into the joyous pursuit of creative work. He therefore chooses the medium and the technique that will keep pace with his restless mind and give him all the thrill of growing into shape under his sensitive fingers.
In the two Chapters entitled “Why an Artist Works” and “I love Clay” Sudhir reveals his approach to art and lets us into what one may say the secrets of his greatness. The externals like the texture, beauty of shape or form or other similar considerations that attract many artists seem to have hardly any appeal to Khastgir’s own words “give me a definite feeling so that I may express their characters with dynamic force”. If he models a head he does it not with scale and compasses for he is not modelling the head but the character which the head reveals. So Khastgir works not to sell. He loves his figures and he keeps them. The work has given him pleasure. Therein he sees the emotions, the feelings, the character and the soul of his subjects, subjects which he sought for himself. It is perhaps in this very quality, that of expressing the inner-self, the innate nature of things that Khastgir comes nearest to our traditional artists. This supreme and essential quality of the real artist which we find so inherent in our national art has baffled and eluded western artists who have vainly hoped to gain it by intense realism.
“Daughters of the Soil” though an early work of Khastgir reveals how consistently he has kept to his ideals and to his methods. The movement that is represented in this small work is remarkable and is possible only to an artist who had a definite idea and knows how to convey it. It is a picturisation of Labour and a real masterpiece. I have seen some very elaborately conceived and boasted large ‘compositions’ which failed to impress for they had no message to deliver. They were just a bundle of trickery aiming at nothing beyond eliciting small praise for some point of technique or other. Khastgir’s works are refreshingly free from this parade of technique so nauseatingly featured in the works of some vain glorious men--I won’t call them as artists.
Another two-figure group which none the less is a great piece of work is “Drink” also reproduced in this number. The tender grace of the woman offering water and the eagerness of the thirsty wayfarer are so emphatically pictured that very few could miss them. The flow of lines making up the group is admirable and worth hours of study.
We feel the chillness of the cold weather when we look at “Winter”, a model of a closely wrapped up old woman warming her hands at the sigri. Her genial and kindly face seems to gratitude to the fire that keeps her warm. Elaborate and more realistic sculpture could not have achieved as much.
“In my studio”, writes Khastgir, “the models “is not reserved for Rajahs and Nawabs. I have never selected them as models yet. I do not care for special characters and forms.” The head studies reproduced in this number bear out this claim amply and we should judge them from that standpoint. Photographic realism is for artist who cannot penetrate beyond superficial appearances and Khastgir is not interested in such things.
Published in Silpi, Vol.1, June 1947