Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary no. 16, 1973, pp. 25-28

The portfolio includes some works of recent sculptures by young artist and is an attempt to survey the new directions as well as highlight the achievements and consider the difficulties. Sculpture is being practiced more widely than before, but its development is slow, compared to painting. The problems of production, of cost and space and sales tend to discourage artists from choosing to work in this medium. There are also very few jobs other than teaching, and the demand for sculpture is rather low. Further sculpture as taught in our art departments does not include any engineering or knowledge of sophisticated technology so that there is insufficient opportunity to use modern machinery and materials. The isolations of art schools, the lack of scientific training and the gulf between general manufacture and the fine arts, make the situation difficult for the sculptor. Though there is a fair amount of original sculpture produced, there are no clear channels through which they can be absorbed in society.

The young sculptors are experimental - but this is only to a limited degree. Works of sculpture continue to be fairly small and simple except for a few which are commissioned. Here I may mention that in general the commissioned works are less good than intimate original works. Perhaps the artist is not able to feel confident or there is a lack of effort and the opportunity for creating something monumental in scale is lost. Great sculptures - whether of the West, from Michelangelo to Henry Moore, or of the East, all the great reliefs and temples - were made for patrons, and are works which were ‘commissioned’. These ancient masterpieces prove that artists can rise above restricting limitations to fulfill great goals and express their own creative visions. But do we have any such monumental sculpture in our times and contrary which can be described as profound or eternal art? Though some sculptors have executed public monuments, one feels that the sincerity together with genius necessary to create a vital work was not present. In fact most of the monuments are portraits of national leaders done from photographs, their raison d’etre is historical or patriotic rather than aesthetic. The few fountains designed by sculptors are frankly uninspiring, and sculpture integrated with architecture is almost absent.

The young sculptors have of necessity to confine themselves to small three-dimensional designs. Looking at the new directions taken by contemporary sculpture we notice that they often parallel those of painting. One of these modes is the iconic trend which perhaps owes something to the Indian tradition in the making of sacred images. These new iconic sculptures have some of the limitations of traditional art - they are characterized by a marked frontality, the sculptures being successful only from one point of view. They are also sometimes dependent on ancient on ancient symbolism, iconography and so on. This style though derivative still succeeds in producing some interesting works which have a presence. Sometimes they have a tendency to be decorative.

Another branch of sculpture shows a heightened appreciation of space. That is, the sculptures encompass space or are distributed in a space or have space as a factor flowing through and around forms. This kind of sculpture is often of wood with the mass perforated with volumes and passages. Metal works of this kind are of parts which create tension in their relationship to one another. The number of works that exploit the space complex is still small but it is one direction in which one may expect further evolution.

Another direction which is being explored is that of joined or jointed works. In terracottas we see a work put together consisting of three or more parts. Or in other cases especially in wood and metal there are works which consist of motifs or sections which are joined. In a few examples the sections may be small machine-made units such as nails or bolts, their repetitious use making an all-over pattern or building up a single complex motif. Sometimes the sculptor may use more than one material - wood with metal and so forth. This jointed sculpture made of small units should also be able to affect a grandiose and monumental style.

Another influence similar to that appearing in painting is the folk influence or inspiration. Folk art in India is still alive and in isolated areas is seen to possess a strange earthy power. Though made unconsciously by unsophisticated craftsmen who repeat forms descended from antiquity the works of these naïve artists are still able to move us by their aesthetic significance.

Style stemming from folk art are of various types, in some it is grammar and technique that is adopted as in Dhokra bronzes or terracotta figurines, in some it is the grotesque or naïve motifs that are recast in a form suitable to modern taste. Derivation itself is by no means harmful because the new work depends in the last analysis not so much on its origin as on what has been made of it.

Lastly, we have occasional works which are reliefs, that is, sculpture which is not three-dimensional but conceived in terms of arrangement on a plane. The practice of this type is still in an early stage. These reliefs have a put-together or rather cerebral quality. They are often made of different materials and are not an elaboration or concept of the wall itself. Reliefs could also be painted, they in fact approximate murals in many ways. If widely practiced this kind of sculpture could be used with architecture as it is a natural complement of plain surfaces.

Lastly the tendencies in modern Indian sculpture seem to group themselves into schools depending on the training of the artists at major centres. One can for instance see that there is a relatedness in the work of the Calcutta sculptors who seem in general to prefer flowing outlines and curvilinear forms. They tend on the whole to reject figurative themes and also broken or detailed imagery. The surfaces are most often smooth or otherwise lightly finished with chisel marks. On the other hand the Baroda group seems to prefer forms in which there is a marked attention to textures. Even in marble, the textures are varied and in wood and metal there is a considerable interest in creating a tactile surface which looks as well as feels differently. This interest in textures was also prominent in Baroda painting for some time in the past though it is perhaps more legitimately used in sculpture.

The Madras sculptors have gone in for the iconic trend and especially for work in beaten metal which is an indigenous tradition. The desire to identify with something Indian has been a preoccupation or ideal of many southern artists. There is on the one hand the wish to be ‘modern’, and on the other to retain traditional imagery.

Modern Indian arthas already clearly separated itself from its past and has in fact joined the stream of international art. Yet when one considers the world output in sculpture one finds that the Indian contribution is frankly meagre and conservative. The foreign work varies greatly; the range extending all the way from environmental sculpture to kinetic, minimal, soft polychrome, pop, op, combines and other forms. This great diversity even if it borders on occasion on gimmickery has not been detrimental to the advancement of sculpture. It is only a proliferation of forms, materials and involvement. As in all experimental endeavours only a part of this heterogenous output is likely to succeed. But the varied approaches also provide new opportunity, it is the individual sculptor who will determine his own inclinations and preferences and see in these media the chance of original expression.

The sculpture of today has vast opportunities compared to his brothers who lived in more circumscribed societies. The whole world is his arena and the modern discoveries of science at his command. “He must think in unusual combinations not rejecting any materials, technique or forms that at time may seem unlikely and impractical. He must be willing to enlarge his form vocabulary as the need arises, and, further, he must never hesitate to step into the unknown realm of perception and development of new forms.” Indeed we look to him not merely to enlarge the frontiers of sculpture itself but also to influence architecture and environment.

Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary no. 16, 1973, pp. 25-28
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