Published in Kalavriti quarterly magazine of art, no. 19, January-March 1990, pp.2-44
I am passionately interested in the sculptural art, both traditional and modern. I have therefore been keenly observing the Indian sculptors grappling with problems of materials and forms and the expressive potentials intrinsic to them in relation to their own creative propensities.
Sculptural art in India has been a very long pre-occupation considering the incredibly rich heritage which has survived through the previous millennia. The Indian sculptor had so easily mastered modeling in clay in stunning variety and so also handling the metal casting process to create such exquisite bronze figurines. But above all I believe carving in rock was the forte of the Indian sculptors who have grappled especially with the monumental size of the live rock (Ellora,Mahabalipuram) not only evoking the amazement as to which giant humans must have accomplished such miracles, but also regarding the extraordinary creativity of these superhuman creatures. Judging from such a phenomenon it should be a natural conclusion that a present day Indian sculptor should take to stone carving like fish takes to water. But such an assumption has to contend with the historical reality of the fact that at least for the last half a millennium, there does not exist much work in stone sculptures comparable in quality and excellence with that done until about eleventh or twelfth century the period of monuments like Khajuraho and Konark.
Sculpture in the twentieth century in India has passed through many kinds of travails and several generations of sculptures have worked in different media and conflicting approaches accumulating into what we could confidently speak of as a significant body of modern Indian sculpture. In this struggle the realization of the long tradition and its values has served as a strong source of inspiration as much as the awareness of the new sculptural attitude evolved by modern western sculptors.
What is the achievement of Indian sculpture in the twentieth century? How do we evaluate the work of the individual sculptors? How do we arrive at who is significant and to what extent? It is strange that neither is modern Indian sculpture being discussed as frequently as painting, nor has it been giving rise to as many controversies, as in painting.
Indeed, it is very glaring that in the mainstream of modern Indian art contemporary sculpture hardly be counted, nor is sculpture brought into the ambit of the many polemics that have been going on regarding whether Indian art today.
That leads to another perplexing situation. When you begin to talk about sculpture, what do you talk about? It is an area in which we hardly have had observers or commentators from generation to generation, like has been in the case with regard to painting. So much so, a view, an attitude, towards the course taken by sculpture would have evolved. Does it imply that it is a slight art, that is still regarded as a minor art? Does it mean that a feeling prevails that it has been miserably trailing behind painting? Perhaps it reflects on the shortcomings of Indian art criticism also.
Sculpture, which had been our most monumental art form and a great artistic achievement in the past, had lost its vitality and roots by the time British paramountacy of our country was established more than a century ago. The onslaught of Victorian philistinism with its insensate prejudice against traditional
Indian sculpture and the imposition of the decadent academic taste of the worst period of European sculpture, played a havoc with already benumbed and prettified Indian imagination which was also ignorant of its rich sculptural heritage.
(Curiously enough a Britain expert of Indian crafts around 1900 presumed that a new beginning in Indian sculpture could be accomplished by the Ganapati modelleurs).
The example of traditional sculpture which it is now possible to ascribe to 19th century are too ornate, stiff and often lacking in taste. (Of course the folk and tribal objects are a class in themselves which have in recent years served as sources of influence). The problem of taste- both in painting and sculpture and especially in the latter - is a sickness which I think has to be regarded as our constant artistic predicament (we know of an incident reported during the late 19th century in the early days of Madras Art School, as to how Indian students were seen giggling when they were shown a copy of a western painting depicting a female nude. The reason for their amusement was the sight of “a naked English woman”!)
Thus, even if the contemporary Indian sculptor has enough justifications and alibis for his frequent failures and often feeble creative attempts, it has to be accepted that the last few decades have been witnessing a gradual awakening and a new quest and more recently a greater acceleration, through the acquaintance with the tradition and the realization of its significance in relationship to the new ideologies and techniques as have been evolving in the West. This confrontation is a phenomenon to be acknowledged. Consequently, now it is possible to formulate relevant questions in terms of which the Indian sculptural efforts of our generation could be studied.
Characteristically and contrary to the case in painting the renaissance of Indian sculpture was not started by the revival of the past. But it was altogether a new beginning by fostering the alien European academic style of India. And interestingly enough it happened right at the beginning of our century when at the Delhi Durbar exhibition of 1902, G.K. Mhatre won a prize for a marble figure, “To the Temple”. In the same exhibition Abanindranath Tagore had won a medal for his painting “ The Death of Shahjahan”. Thus when the revivalist tendencies influenced by indigenous Mughal school had ushered what may be called the second phase in modern Indian painting (which was accompanied for controversies and questioning) away from European academism, Modern Indian sculpture initiated its academic/realistic phase. It began by accepting the West as a model instead of reflecting upon which direction to take. To my mind such a reflective stage has never come in modern Indian sculpture.
I think this academic phase is significant historically because the origins of many of the problems, paradoxes and predicaments can be traced to this period. Since then, sculpture came under Western orbit like it had happened a generation ago in the case of painting (with the appearance of Raja Ravi Varma). This servility has not been given up though now its form has changed.
It is our first secular sculpture, first sculpture in urban environment, not inspired by religious needs, but patronized by the Westernised middle and upper class. The “professional” sculptor arrived, who considered himself a minorCanova (the Italian neoclassic sculptor) and styling himself in the fashion of some Royal Academy sculptor of England. Indeed, how amusing it sounds today when one comes across in the magazines of those days the way the sculptors advertise their studio wares and skills (…”gold medalist”…”statues and bust”…executed to order in marble, bronze and plaster).
The first thirty years of the century were dominated by such sculpture with Bombay as its chief center, the largest Westernized merchantile city which grew as a result of the contact with the West together, with its vast urban society and milieu. The formal portrait, life-size or bust-size, became the main preoccupation of the sculptor. It did not matter if the gaze was vacant or the expression blank. Next, which was less frequent but more ambitious, the monument-usually put up in the middle of an important crossing or in the front of a large government building. It may be an awkward, stiffly postured portrait or a heroically positioned equestrian statue. This became the “profession” of the sculptor who now mostly worked on commissions and “orders”. This had become the practice in Europe during the 19th century under the impact of Neoclassicism, but such a practice had already ceased to be regarded there as serious sculpture by the beginning of the present century.
For the Indian sculptors the immediate prototypes were portraits and monuments executed by Western Sculptors in India under the orders of the British colonial administrators. By this time had also been arriving into India plaster casts and copies of European sculpture together with such knick-knacks which served as garden sculpture and adornment pieces in typical palatial houses of the aristocratic classes. The Indian academic sculptor could turn with ease from the stiff portrait to a voluptuous nude or wrinkled old man or a beggar in rags. There were also attempts at Indian academism like the Grecian grace of Mhatre’s “To the Temple” or Talim’s clumsily posed “Takli”. There also exists a most ugly looking example of Ajanta painting - like stylization by Mhatre. But their more interesting work was based on subjects from Indian “life” like Phadke’s “Pravachan”, and Karmakar’s “Fisher Girl”. These may be regarded as attempts at “Indianization” but they are to be distinguished from the other kind of “Indianness” noticed as for example in Sankho Chaudhuri or P.V Janakiram during the sixties and seventies. The earliest examples of such Westernized academic sculptures from Indian life are the small beggars done in terracotta by Bhagwant Singh of Lucknow also shown in 1902 Delhi Durbar exhibition. They are still of interest for their intense and exaggerated realism. Interestingly, similar kind of heightened realism seems to fascinate some of the youngest sculptors discussed towards the end of this paper, manifesting a remarkable sea change in the attitudes, viz., Krishnakumar and Rimzon.
Madras and Bengal too had their realist/academic sculptors. Nagappa and Hiponmoy Roy Chaudhari. The latter may have the credit of executing one of the first as well as convincing portraits of Gandhiji in the 1930s. Mention may also be made here that the Bengal revivalists, who were predominantly painters, had also enlisted a sculptor among them, N.K Deval, but he too finally turned too realistic portraiture.
Their attempts to revive crafts and traditional temples carving by encouraging a hereditary craftsman, one Gitidhari Mahapatra, did not bear out creatively significance results. The first generation pupil of Abanindranath from the south. Venkattapa, tried his hand at sculpture also, which could be called the sculptural answer to the revivalist painting. Mostly they are linear reliefs of Hindu goddesses resulting in an unhappy cross between decorative and realistic approaches.
The next point in Indian sculpture worth noting is the influence or awareness of Rodin under whose impact a comparatively livelier work was done by Phanindranath Bose and subsequently by D.P.Roy Chowdhury. Bose is supposed to have been in contact with and appreciated by Rodin during the beginning of this century. His figures are life-size, flawlessly cast in bronze, with much movement and definitely in their generalized realism preferable to the work of earlier Bombay academic style sculptors.
Roy Chowdhury started as a painter in the Bengal school tradition and was one of the best among the second generation revivalists because of the robust realism and plasticity of his painting. Due to these characteristics they relate to his later career as sculptor. He attempted large scale ambitious monuments during the 40s and early 50s. “Triumph of Labour” and “Martyr’s Monument”,having in mind Rodin’s masterpiece “Burghers of Calais”. Making effective use of the movement, gesture and grouping they are marred by a hollow rhetoric like the neo-classical sculptures. However, they show the sculptor’s preoccupation with “Indianness”, through “patriotism” through using Indian models and depicting Indian life as had also been done by the Bombay academicians. In his grandiose attempts, it is not so much the technical accomplishments but the genius that failed him. Roy Chowdhury was unable to understand Rodin’s treatment of broken surfaces and the lively effects of light on them. Yet it must be asserted that his figurative monumental experiments, even though failures, have not been matched subsequently. The response to some of Rodin’s qualities of F.N. Bose and Roy Chowdhury is however, remarkable when one notes the lack of adventurousness in other academic sculptors to their generation like the Bombay based Karmarkar, who incidentally happened to hale from a family of Ganapati modelleurs.
With regard to post-realistic trends in Indian sculptures since around 1940, it can be observed that now there exist two sets of sculptors, the degenerated “commercial” sculptor, who has inherited the “profession” of the earlier realistic sculptors and the “creative” sculptor.
The latter category also often happens to work in unrelated two-faced personalities, one is his “experimental” work, the other when he executes “orders” like the commercial sculptor, for portraits, fountain designs and reliefs for house facades, which are done primarily for subsistence, since he cannot survive on his “creative”-work.
Creative sculpture in our country has taken his own time to emerge compared to painting. Here is the case of a kind of ‘time lag’ between the development in the two arts. It is evident that the Revivalist aesthetic for painting did not give rise to the new beginning of in sculpture, nor did it help in dislodging the so-called academic or professional sculpture, which had got strongly entrenched in emulation of the European fashion of making portraiture or setting up street monuments for natural heroes. Surely, the garishly coloured image made by ‘Ganapati Modelleurs’ couldnot be construed as revival of sculpture. The proper aesthetic for new beginning in sculpture had to await in the rise in Europe of new sculptural manifestations accompanied by the concept of plasticity, inner structure, and vitality, and the constraints imposed by the material on the unique form, and their filtration into India, mainly after the independence. This is really the point when Indian sculptors were able to realize the significance of Indian traditional sculpture and the attempt to grasp its relevant qualities in the modern context began.
It is a most unhappy situation in India that “creative” sculpture does not sell and also that a sculpture cannot be “creative” in the “commissioned” work. He cannot afford to be creative within the imposition of a commissioned project. Instead of accepting this challenge, the concept has been gaining ground that sculpture can also reflect the personality, ideas and concepts of its creator, that it has to be viewed as an individual object with its independent existence in an ideal setting, namely the art gallery.
This has been one of the cause of a general crisis of modern sculpture which has ben termed as its “homelessness”, for all great sculpture has always been executed with respect to its purpose and settling which determines its success. For our realist sculptors such a conflict did not exist, whereas some of the “creative” sculptors have occasionally been able to obliterate the dichotomy, as for instance, Sankho Chaudhuri and Davierwalla in their monumental projects.
In this context may be noted the work of Pansare during the 1940s. Within the constraints of a commissioned work a positive contribution and attempts at creative sculpture were made by him. His career was a typical case of the professional sculptor wanting to be creative within the scope of commercial projects. It was one, such project which virtually became the cause of his tragic death. This is with reference to his equestrian monument of Shivaji installed at his Gateway of India in Bombay. His monumental reliefs done for Bombay business houses were inspired by Egyptian sculpture in the case of “frontal” stylization of the human figure. In their simplicity and grandeur they relate to architecture and the relationship was further enhanced by the way the sunlight was made to play over the modulations of surface relief.
Perhaps the first truly creative sculptor in India has been Ramkinkar, whose works of the late 1930s and 1940s were not commissioned. They were concretisations of the fundamental urge to express through the medium of sculpture. They were fresh and personal, going beyond the limitation, rigidity and complacency of academism and realism practiced by preceding generations of sculptors in Calcutta and Bombay. Even before international influences reached India, he appeared to have intuitively hit upon some of the new ideas. The medium he consistently employed has been liquid cement, in the handling of which the influence of Rodin and his pupil Bourdelle’s pupil could be traced (it is said that one Madame Milward who had been Bourdelle’s pupil was teaching in Santiniketan during the late 1920s). Although Ramkinkar’s works are based on Indian life (his Santhal environment) he conceived his sculptures as independent objects in outdoor settings like many modern Western sculptors.
The idyllic Santiniketan setting was beautifully used by him to establish a harmony between his sculptures and nature. This has been achieved by means of furrowed, coarse surface, resembling that of free trunks and rocks giving the sculptures the same weathered look as the wooded surroundings. The natural movements of the human body, stretched legs, gesticulating arms and thrusting heaving torsos were integrated to give an inner vitality and pulsating life to the sculptural mass as in his ‘Santhal Family’ and ‘Way to Market’. He also did a remarkable Rodinesque portrait of Rabindranath Tagore and a full figure of Gandhiji entitled ‘Dandi March’. Ramkinkar stands alone in having combined in qualities of material, inner vitality and open-air environment to create an appropriate “home” for sculpture. He was also the first Indian to attempt abstraction, to which he arrived, however, not through the evolutionary process but as independent experiments as for example in ‘Deep Stambha’ (1941). Some of these sculptures imply an understanding of volume in the Cezannian sense and construction in the cubist sense, both of these elements he had handled in some watercolours and oils during the 40s and the early 50s, which reveals how he brilliantly integrated his pictorial and structural preoccupations in his creative output.
The third pioneer I think along with Pansare and Ramkinkar is Dhanraj Bhagat, who began doing wood carvings around 1950 and in them he was the first to absorb the simplicity and the naivette of Negro sculpture. Under its influence he developed a type of distortion and stylization of the figure in which proportions are elongated, and sharp angles and body joints are turned into curves to look what may be termed as “organic” forms. It may be called a lyrical stylization which is free and flowing and the total sculptural object is conceived in terms of linear silhouettes instead of the emphasis on three-dimensionality despite its volume, ideas of “rhythm” and “growth” also contribute to such lyrical stylization because of which Dhanraj Bhagat could be regarded to be the first Indian sculptor to work on the basis of definite “ideas”. His characteristic sculptures embodying these elements are those based on musical themes. Similar characteristics are found in his other early sculptures which are built up in clay and cement, i.e. in his “Tree of Life” which is almost like a calligraphic pictograph in space. This work also reveals Dhanraj’s interest in symbolism, a preoccupation which has come to the fore in his work of the 1960s. In his sculptures of this phase there is a change revealing a preference for geometric elements and the craftmanly quality by introducing surface details of different materials. He makes use of the rectangular hollows and projections which are probably architectural derivational form balcony and window motifs serving decorative units as well as the total sculptural mass giving the sculpture a principal front view and iconic presence. Thus, he is one of the first to usher in what might be called the “iconic” wave, one of the dominant currents in sculptures of the generations of 60s, the other examples of which are the work of Mahendra Pandya and Jankiram.
The idea of “organic” growth also underlies the sculptures of Prodosh Das Gupta, who however, has continued the modeling tradition, producing figures with bulbous forms not always aesthetically pleasing. Like Dhanraj Bhagat, he too has been a teacher and number of young sculptors have studied under him at Calcutta. For his “Bondage”, in itssurface treatment and posture, eventually Rodin is the model. Subsequently during the 1950s he has turned to lyrical stylization of the human figure using both elongation as well as exaggeration of volumes. At times only lean elongations are used and at times they are counterpoised with what look like swollen shapes. Similar lyrical stylization and simplification has also been the hallmark of Chintamani Kar’s contemporaneous works, some of which are executed in terracotta. The early sculptural work of S. Bakre (Who has lately turned to painting) also is characterized with similar kind of stylization.
During the 1950s the carving method seemed to have become quite widespread with many experimental Indian sculptors, among them Sankho Chaudhuri, Adi Davierwalla, Pilloo Pochkhanawala and Jitendra Kumar. In all of them, the common feature has been maintaining the solid character of the block. In case of wood, the very tall block was preferred which was easy to turn into, e.g., a sari-clad standing female figure; if in vertical position; and a reclining figure if placed horizontally.
The stress was in creating a graceful curvilinear three-dimensional shape. The undulating sinous contours were spirally woven together to create an all-round interest. Probably one major influence on all of them was Henry Moore, who in the West is to a greater extent responsible for the revival of “direct carving” as distinct form modelling. This may be termed as the ‘Henry Moore Wave’. For some of the Indian sculptors who were carving directly in stone or wood, the influence was so deep yet uncritical, as if the only way of treating a wood block or stone cube could be by giving it the kind of biomorphic form which was the characteristic of the great sculptor.
One of the early sculptors to respond to the work of Henry Moore was Sankho Chaudhuri, under whose leadership a turn has been given to sculpture in Baroda from the mid- 1950s onwards and who has also contributed as an influential teacher of sculpture. The fresh beginning had been possible in Baroda because it has been neither a stronghold of traditional sculpture not a centre of lifeless academic absurdities. Sankho Chaudhuri introduced the attitude of going back to the fundamentals as had been shown by Brancusi, Gabo and Moore. A new definition of sculpture had been evolved by them, the tenets of which are loyalty to material, three-dimensional palpability, the activising of space through juxtaposition of solids and voids,- a sculptural object being an organism in its own right possessing its own reality and not being a substitute of any other reality. These qualities are found in Chaudhary’s carving as well as metal sculptures. In his use of simplification, the clean sinous line and of surface treatment of convex and concave planes, there is an indebtedness to Cubist sculpture. These features stand in contrast to the kind of lyrical stylization associated with Dhanraj Bhagat’s work, but in a way come closer to the characteristic elegant refinement of traditional Indian sculpture. He is also a pioneer in working with sheet metal and the constructivist kind of assemblage boardering on abstraction.
The characteristic work of Mahendra Pandya (also from Baroda) derives from wood carving and has significance in the context of the “iconic” and trend of 1960s. His earlier carvings (done during late 1959s) are remarkable in using the softness of sand-stone for simulating the suppleness of the human skin and the subtle indentures and building surfaces creating delicate chiaroscuro effects. His wood assemblages are not of the Cubist-constructivist kind but consist of more free and inventive alignment of parts of varied shapes, sizes and surfaces. The surface are treated with bold, continuous chisel marks running along the natural wood grains which are then charred by a blow flame, like he used to treat sculptures carved from single wood blocks. Due to technical constraint the structure that emerges has one dominant view i.e., it is frontal rather than conceived in round. The image has an aura of mystery , staring directly into the face of the onlooker as do his more recent cement objects which are oval masses with criss-cross surfaces resembling temple of deities. His use of colour in sculpture is an aspect of another of the present day trends of fusing painting and sculpture. In this context should be noted the reliefs or one-dominant-view sculptures of Rajnikant Panchal done in sheet-metal and thin, thread-like wire which are also used in combination with painted or unpainted wood planks. His compositions are based on counterpoint of line, plane and void, creating lyrical poetic effects.
Other young sculptors from Baroda who have been involved with direct carving are Girish Bhatt, Nagji Patel, Balbir Katt and Ramesh Pateria. While Bhatt is nearer to his teacher Chaudhary in his use of elegant curved forms and rounded smooth surfaces but the carvings of the latter three are rough and rugged, leaving varied chisel marks almost of the same spontaneity like in ‘Action Painting’ especially so in the work of Pateria. In contrast to letting the form spill into space. Nagji Patel’s sculptures retain the compact character of the block juxtaposing polished and rough surfaces. His characteristic sculptures are those which possess a solemnity of the primitive spirit figures. Another carver of note is Ajit Chakravarty who is gradually shredding his eclecticism and assembles carved organic shapes in his own peculiar way. Often a large concavity is hollowed out to accommodate small solid forms.
Another major trend in the sculpture of the 1960s is the exploitation of the potentialities of “junk” and the use of welding technique. Among the first to experiment in this mode have been Davierwalla and Raghav Kaneria, the latter a young Baroda sculptor. Kaneria has created eloquently fantastic and weird images out of surprising juxtapositions of strange rusty surfaces and “found forms”. The ready-made “found” forms undergo a surrealist metamorphosis resulting in an image that is menacing and malevolent, a characteristic that Kaneria’s work has in common with similar works of Davierwalla. But, the former now makes use of tabular forms which bend into curves or inflate into round balls thus presenting interesting interruptions in their otherwise streamlined, upward journey.
Davierwalla and Pockhanawala have been the two Bombay sculptors whose works reflect the new ideology and direct confrontation with contemporary developments in modern sculpture. In terms of their work they stand to each other as do Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth in England. Davierwalla’s wood carvings of 1950s differ from Sankho Chaudhuri’s in that they are more geometric, deliberately inelegant and heavy and stand in solemn stillness like the Kushan sculptures. But his welded metal sculptures are dynamic and overwhelming by frequent use of protrudingthrusting forms jutting into space. Instead of employing “found” forms, he carefully fabricates separate parts out of metal sheets and rods which when put together create an interplay of angular, spiky contours, straight lines, convex masses and voids.
These metal components assume the role of limbs and anatomical parts of what appear as strange mythical creatures possessing a disconcerting and menacing quality, very much like the works of Gonzales and Max Ernst. In the certain coolness and aloofness reflected in Davierwalla’s sculptures there is a suggestion of the universal loneliness of man. His use of scale is very special which gives the sculptures a monumental quality. This is the reason why his monumental sculptures have generally been successful.
His recent sculptures are more abstract and impersonal possessing constructivist purity, which can be classed with Sankho Chaudhuri’s works. To this may also be included the very recent metal sculptures of the Madras sculptor of the younger generation, Dharmaratnam, who uses pure shapes, right angles, semi-circular curves, highly polished surfaces giving them a slick and precious look which have affinities with ‘minimal’ sculpture. In this trend also fit in the fascinating optical experiments of the young Baroda sculptor, Anil Limaye.
Especially interesting is the one which consists of a sort of box made by superimposing plastic lenses of varying magnifying power within which is placed a moving screen with black and white stripes. Seen through the lenses the moving stripes appear to change their sizes creating a vertiginous effect on the eyes.
Pochkhanawala during the last twenty years has gone over the whole range of techniques and approaches, starting with direct carving, cement, metal casting and finally junk welding using “found” forms, solid shapes, shiny or meshy surfaces, and transparent sheets in various permutations. She has also several public sculptures to her credit. In her experimentation it is technique and material which predominated. In the most recent works she entirely moved away from the solid form, but created free and at times amorphous shapes extending into space. As she grew older (she died in June 1986) she tried to be profound by giving some philosophical titles to her sculptures. B.Vithal is another Bombay sculptor who began with promise at first as a carver and subsequently as a welder during the early 1960s. His welded iron sculptures are built up o clusters of small bits of scrap arranged in attempting recessions and protrusions which finally appear like architectural configurations.
The Delhi based sculptor, Amarnath Sehgal, has also been an early pioneer of metal sculpture and his work could be termed as expressionist. During the mid-1950s, he did a series of sculptures of social themes. “Cries Unheard” or “Uprising”, which have grouping of figures like in Giocommetti’s sculptures but not the latter’s philosophical content. His elongated and stylized figures are akin to those of Dhanraj Bhagat. In his later work, the preoccupation with expressive potential of shapes, masses and contours has resulted in effects of strength and brutality as in those titled “The Charge” and “The Tortoured”. Expressionist are also the wood carvings of S.L. Prashar, with his animistic imagination. In his themes like “Burden of the Cross”, which him akin to both Negro sculpture and the German Expressionist sculptor,Barlach Dhamani has an early early stone carving, “Frustration”, where within the confines of the Cubic block is ingeniously titled a brooding seated figure thus transcending the formal kind of carvings practiced by many at that time, “Mother and Child”, done in cement by Anila Jacob of Madras can be classed in the same category especially in terms of its theme.
The works of Madras sculptors are largely “Iconic”, influenced by folk and tribal objects and traditional craftsmanship. Still what is equally interesting are the parallels they have with their painter colleagues. They are linear and make use of surface decoration by means of script-like motifs as e.g., in the sculptures of Nandagopal which remind one of the scribblings in Vasudev’s paintings. Similarly the pictorially conceived relief by Jankiram, “Kaliya Daman”, is basically a drawing by means of the rods welded on metal surface in which the stylization of figures is similar to that found in many of the Madras painters, like K.C.S. Paniker and Sultan Ali. The sculptures betray a preference for the additive process, metal work, modeling, and even the use of terracotta but carving is seldom practiced. They are, therefore, necessarily light and thin, since they show no concern with formal problems of three-dimensionally and abstraction.
From stylized terracottas, with large-eyed faces obviously influenced from the imagery in Paniker’s paintings, Dhanapal in the early 1960s established a characteristic figure type in the form of a lyrical silhouette but instead of the solid volume of the torso, concavities are scooped over establishing their frontal character. This became the starting point of Janakiram for his metal sculptures done in repousse. Many of his sculptures are in metal sheets beaten into concave planes on which are welded linear details, facial features, drapery folds, decorative motifs, to suggest religious icons inviting intimate contemplation. He has also created three-dimensional sculptures by welding numerous metal fragments which together establish the image of the “Owl” (to give an example) as well as represent its surface details like feathers. Animal imagery is widely adapted by Nand Gopal in his “Man-Animal” series which also consist of convincingly welded parts serving as components of basic anatomical structure or as surface decorations. He used symmetry and the schematic simplification of folk art also found in the terracotta “House and Rider” series of Mookiah. But the stiffness of the tribal stereotypes is relieved by freer handling of clay and elongation of body or stretching of the neck which also gives them a certain playfulness. The cement figures of Kunihraman have characteristic distortions and proportions and possess an idol-like appearance as in his “Mother”. Working in Trivendrum he has been one of the first sculptors down south to work in open-air directly using cement in order to relate sculpture with environment.
To continue with the figurative sculpture in the seventies one may also mention Sarbari Roy Chaudhary (teaching in Santiniketan) who used the pliability of clay to create human images with oddly distorted proportions and limbs, which have flattened bellies, stumpy legs, flaccid, decomposed skin effects, whereas Krishan Chhatpar isolated the human limbs rendered in plaster with startling realism, made even more so in the way a fore-arm is shown vertically, resting on its hand, having sprawled out fingers, the upper portion of which getstransformed into a sensuous thing. The dematerialization aspect and an aura of mystery around the figure form also reveal an affinity with Giocometti’s work, which the Indian sculptures began to notice due to the publicity of his death in 1965, just as since his death in 1980 even Ramkinkar’s work seems to have ignited some young sculptors.
In the context of Sarbari Roy Chowdhury’s talents as a figurative sculptor his portrait heads have a special significance, although portraiture as a sculptural genre is a challenge to any sculptor who wished to be taken seriously. He is the country’s finest portrait sculptor considering the most expressive and unique likeness he has modeled of some of the leading Indian musicians, in particular those of two singers, Bade Gulam Ali and Siddheshwari Devi. I can unhesitatingly claim that only a person with such as such sensitive ears and passion for music (as Sarbari is known to have could have captured such captivating movements of these singers’ faces when they are rapturously engrossed in their own voices. The lumps of clay bring out the physiognomy, the likeness, the expression, the light effects and relation with the atmosphere and above all the rapturous trance on the singer’s countenance and comparable with the achievement of the Sarnath sculptors who transformed the stone into Buddha’s yoga concentration within himself over fifteen hundred years ago.
The concern with traditional, folk and tribal sources is also a notable feature of contemporary Indian sculpture the anticidents of which go back to the Bengal School artists encouraging and working with a traditional sculptor, already mentioned above.
However, we have to distinguish between the influence of classical phase sources from the tribal and folk sources. Historically speaking involvement with absorbing elements from classical quality began from the beginning of the century and have continued. But influences from folk and tribal sources have been gradual, especially it was constructed to be bolder on the part of those who initiated it about two decades ago, but today the tribal influence is also seen in nationalistic/revivalist sense especially when it has become government (or establishment) sponsored and thereby ceases to be a creative quest.
The Bengal Revivalist did not have much success in the field of sculpture. It was a South Indian artist who first attempted revivalist sculpture, who was also a painter at the same time, namely Venkatappa. His sculptural answer to revivalist painting consisted of linear as reliefs of Hindu gods and goddesses delineated in an unhappy cross between decorative and realistic approaches. From Bombay, the older Mhatre, had also done an ugly looking sculpture purported to be executed in the Ajanta like stylization. But probably the first sculpture to have exploited the sinuous beauty and clean contours of Indian classical sculpture was Chintamni Kar (see his ‘Ballet Dancer’). Prodosh Das Gupta attempted besides, the understanding of how masses relate with linear contours. Pansare had in some reliefs, carved strong, at the same time lyrical, profiles of the human faces. Yet, it was Sankho Chaudhuri who was able to grasp the essential plasticity of Indian stone sculpture and its classical elegance in his own carvings. This is how he could create abstraction in stone which were obviously permeated with Indian sensibility.
The pioneering of adopting qualities from folk art was the achievement of Dhanraj Bhagat, namely the simplification of form, elongation of limbs, and the direct carving in wood. His clay sculptures also revealed a sensitive familiarity with the Indus Valley and subsequent terracotta tradition. The South Indian artists during the last few decades have made their own discovery of the indigenous terracotta sculptural tradition. A familiar sight in South Indian villages is the installation of group of Ayanar horses under the groves of trees. The horizontal bodies and the vertical legs of the animals reduced to elemental form, have been made into a personal language in his terracotta works by T.R.P. Mookiah. Over and above he his able to infuse a liveliness in their otherwise stereotype forms, in the way he handles clay freely and exploits its pliability. P.S. Nandhan is another sculptor in clay to be influenced by folk simplification. Ajit Chakravarti of Santiniketan has developed a delicate style of clay sculpture derived from pottery-making techniques. A human head adjusted with the wheel-thrown pot, gives it the connotation of the tone of a seated woman.
Probably the discoverer of certain typical indigenous metal techniques has also been a South Indian sculptor, Jankiram . He has raised the repouse technique of beating the metal sheets into sculptural images to a high aesthetic level which was otherwise used to prepare ‘Kavachas’ by traditional craftsmen for covers over wooden images of deities. His personal innovation has also been to embellish the metal sheets with decorative patterns. Such ornamentation too has a source in traditional metal sculptures. This ornamentation of surfaces of sculptural forms, has been taken as the starting point by Nandgopal in his ‘man-animal’ series in which he also incorporates the essential structures as found in the folk bronzes. But his decorated surface lacks plasticity and thereby a comparison with the well-reliefs of Indian temples is not appropriate. A more creative use and in large scale, of the traditional and a more primitive technique of bronze casting, known as ‘dokra-process’ employed by Santhal and Bastar tribals, has been accompalished by Meera Mukerjhee of Bengal. However, the question will always remain, the tribal technique has its limitation, and how long can an artist depend on the simple forms and intuitive distortions of the human figure. In the sense the “style” of Meera Mukherjee remains derivative as in her many single-figure sculptures.
An interesting development in Indian sculpture in the seventies is also in terms of sculptural murals, partially because of the Government “commissions”, one of the artist successfully to have received this bounty during the 1960s was Satish Gujral who was maintaining a two faced personality, that of a painter of grotesque expressive figures and mural decorator of house facades using colourful ceramic tiles and abstract forms. Eventually he had turned to full-time sculpture (most recently even to architecture)which is an interesting development in his career, and his three-dimensional works are an extension of his work in ceramics. Though their tantric interpretations may not be taken seriously, they have been termed as a synthesis of ‘Tantra and Technology’. Even if the fabrication technique may be quite elaborate they are basically geometric assemblages elementary in character either conceived three-dimensional or with single dominant view combining colourful titled surfaces contrastingwith the sheen of the metal parts. Occasionally a symbolic touch is given in the way elements are assembled as the sculpture entitled, ‘crucifixion’.
Perhaps for a painter to be a muralist using sculptors’ materials is relatively ‘natural’ when it comes to treating it two-dimensionally. The painter K.G.Subramanyan’s mural work for Gandhi Darshan in 1969 and subsequently for the Rabindra Bhawan, Lucknow, led him to open up in the area of sculpture, although his subsequent works continues to be in the format of two-dimensional reliefs. Thus, not having worked in three-dimensional volume and space, yet the body of the work is qualitatively important enough to rate him also a prominent sculptor. While in Gujral’s murals no characteristic forms were evolved, but in Subramanyan’s terracotta murals, definite forms including schematized animal, floral, and human shapes, are arranged in sections creating horizontal continuity of design evoking the feeling of Indian decorative quality as for example observed in the two thousand years old Buddhist Stupa reliefs. During 1970s instead of precast units and forms be assembled on the walls, he turned to modeling the wet soft clay into plaques with expressionist figural compositions. Some of these were done when several artists responded to the horrors of the Bangladesh war. The choice of terracotta was an unusual medium for such brutal themes. Conceived in separate sections, the subtle terracotta reliefs of Subramanyan appeal at first sight for their pale red oxide color and lyrical configuration of line an plasticity, before one realized that one is looking at a cruel army general or a shooting canon or a wounded woman.
I end this section by referring to the second generation metal sculptors to emerge in the beginning of the 1970s who have been pre-occupied with the chaste preciousness of the pure metal with shiny surfaces. Dharamaratnam is a characteristic example of this preoccupation. But due to their elegance and chaste beauty. Shiv Singh’s and Susen Ghosh’s works also belong to the same attitude. Shiv Singh’s metal sculptures have the precision of the machine but not its coolness. They are lyrical as the rhythmical curvatures and bends relieve then from the inherent rigidity of the material. Such forms he claims derive from his observations of the plant world. Susen Ghosh’s sculptures are stark. The proportional relationship of the various units is established on some strict mathematical basis.
The most flamboyant young sculptor from south working in metal especially explorating the welding process and generally conceiving his sculptures in outdoors, is the Bangalore based painter-sculptor Balan Nambiar. Very conscious of his local folk heritage of the Bhuta cult of which he has made a detailed study, his monumental welded forms are abstract and symbolic at the same time because these are often geometric yet derive from ritual objects, masks, etc. His works are comparable to Davierwalla’s before he turned to pure construction.
I have pointed out elsewhere, how since the 1950s, Baroda has been in the fore-front of contemporary Indian sculptural scene (See Lalit Kala Contemporary No.4). In particular, the Baroda stamp has been in the sphere of direct stone carving treated in a certain attitude which was spearheaded by Sankho Chaudhuri. His pupils- Nagil Patel, Ramesh Pateria, Balbir Katt and Vidya Ratan Khajuria - have continued to grapple with stone. Their concept has chiefly been with the block quality and the sensitiveness towards the ponderousness and texture of stone. Khajuria’s forte is high polish and moreover he has made happy discoveries of suitability of certain kinds of local stone in the Jammu and Kashmir region like the black stone.
During the last two decades, elsewhere in India, many sculptors have taken up handling stone in the same manner like Shri Khande of Lucknow. The kind of proliferation is significant, but it is also noteworthy that these sculptors delude themselves into believing that they are very ‘avant-garde’, little realizing that such sculptural solution have already been worked out in Baroda and by those artists who have received training there.
Balbir Katt’s pre-occupation with stone-carving not only aligns him with Baroda movement in this medium but also with the persuasiveness of the great Indian tradition of carving the live rock, nonetheless he is not handling it in the traditional way lyricism. Yet however, Balbir’s relation to traditional monumental sculpture could be supported by drawing attention to the quality of scale of his works. It is amazing how he has maintained his sustained interest in handling large blocks of stone, often big bouldergers, sometimes assembling them in combinations, when many sculptors for practical experiences have turned to ‘ small sculptures’ or ‘portable sculptures’. His interest in ‘sculpture in open-air’ is also inspired by Ramkinkar’s works as much as Henry Moore. Moreover, next to Satish Gujral and Subramanyam, I think he has also been a good commissioned sculptor.
Balbir’s work in stone during the 1970s make him an archetypal stone carver possessed with certain personal compulsions to grapple with the live rock, to lay it bare as it were, to expose it, to dissect it, to bring out its entrails, to make it cry out and in this way sculpturally speak to the onlooker, by hitting the inert material hard and deep and again and again, gouging it, chipping it, hewing it, slashing it. Most of the series of sun images which were exhibited in 1975-76,were based on a focal hole as if to suggest the solar orb with indications of the circular movement and outward thrust. The openendedness continued in the colossal ‘Nandeswar’ of 1982, which is like a great orchestra encompassing large variety of forms, contours, planes, chisel marks and invented patterns integrated into cohesive mass.
During the 1970s, a new kind of sculpture has been evolved in Baroda by a younger generation of sculpture, which has been sufficiently noticed, it is true, however, that some of the individual sculptural works have received some attention in certain exhibitions. Yet, it is not realized that these have been the creations of young post-graduate students or the recipients of the very helpful cultural scholarships of the Government of India. Those whose works are discussed here include Janak Jhankar Narazary, Lalit Gupta, Latika Katt, Deepak Kannal, Gufran Kidwai, Ramnik Kaneria and Dhruva Mistry.
It is significant that they arrived in Baroda with different backgrounds, levels of preparation and creative potentiality, e.g. Janak Narazary received initial training in Santiniketan, Latika in Banaras, Kidwai in Lucknow. This phenomenon once again demonstrates that providing facilities to young artists to come together at one place with an environment conducive to creative work can give positive results. The post-graduate level trainingin the Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts offers such an opportunity. These artists share certain common qualities among themselves, namely the attitude to space, the sculpture does not consist of just one solid form and that any form or material ha sculptural possibility. They have been working without inhibitions of what the materials and medium can do. They do not necessarily start with the medium and the constraints of the medium. They have tried to get rid of the hangover of deciding what material to use and then making that as the starting point for working out the form and design.
They, instead begin with ideals, concepts, happy intuitions. They let them emerge and evolve through any medium that may be handy. The same idea may be worked out in several mediums. Through the process of variation and trying out the mediums in different ways, eventually, it may lead to the choice of what is most suitable to that kind of form. This has led to the creation of sculpture which is very fresh, very surprising, dynamic and full of life. Some strange life force seems running through the forms, although they are not apparently imitative of nature. It has the characteristic of melting, as it is turning into liquid and seemingly overflowing its boundaries. Such sculpture is more “mental”, derived from human feeling, intuition, imagination, and not a result of cerebral activity. This is not to contract what I have said i.e. that they are more as concretized “ideas”. The series of variations that these sculptors have created are not intellectual exercises, but a free play with forms, with materials, with letting them interact with feelings and ideas till the concepts get clarified in the process. That is why these sculptors have no inhibitions with the materials of the processes like using the strictly carving approach or modeling approach. Any material is used, as long as it, can quickly enable to objectify the idea for further pondering and elaboration. They have used inexpensive and perishable materials. The inevitable clay, plaster, papier-mâché, jute cloth, husk and dry straw, everything that has generally been regarded as non-sculptural in the sense that these materials are not considered permanent so far as finished sculpture is concerned.
Indeed these artists have shown the range that is possible in sculpture, when working with complete freedom of mind, when not letting often involved logic of Indianness and modernity and what have you, petrify and benumb imagination. They have shown the immense sculptural talent pent up within many a young Indian artist. They have shown the difficulties that sculptors and sculpture has to face in this country. Unless sculpture is eventually executed in some concrete, non-perishable material, in the scale in which it is intended or which suited it most, the results cannot be properly comprehended, nor will the creative idea be realized for aesthetic enjoyment. Sometimes, elaborate and sophisticated techniques are required or collaboration of the expertise of several persons working together is necessary to erect final work. However, this is not to suggest that these sculptures, in the medium and size in which they are executed, are not valid aesthetic statements.
Anyway, a good example of this situation described above, is the fountain designed by Mahendra Pandya which is the first modern fountain in Baroda. Had it not been undertaken to be put up with the collaboration of structure engineers, with the permission of the City Corporation, and the cost written off by a commercial establishment. Mahendra Pandya’s design would have remained only an “idea” in the form of a miniature maquete. His design is also based on the idea of free forms, where several separate units are interlocked within each other. These were already throughout in terms of structural balance as they would be enlarged, and also in terms of the mechanism by which pipes would pass through them and create cascades of flowing water. As the fountain has been constructed to the scale in the middle of a specious traffic island, its imposing monumentality is very striking, which was even conspicuous in the maquete. The cascade of water harmonize with the rounded solid organic forms, which is one of the hall-marks of the success of its desing. Mahendra Pandya has been directly or indirectly the moving spirit behind the spurt of creativity in sculpture, as the then Head of the Sculpture Department.
Janak Jhankar was the first to begin consciously thinking in terms of exploring space, when he arrived from Santiniketan, in 1972. He began with a series of solutions, using volumes and undulations, in ascending or descending relationships interspread with thin, tall uprights, invariably, a miniscule human figure was placed somewhere in the centre, which at once gave a scale to the whole ensemble, turning it into a vast environment complex. They were executed on aluminum sheets which could be hammered into any desirable shape and curvature, in dimensions of about 3 feet diameter and one to two feet in height, sometimes resembling architect’s models. He also executed similar ensemble in plaster, with a smoother finish. Their obvious cannotation with landscape makes it clear that they were conceived for being a set in open air requiring large dimensions, so that a new environment is created which would in turn transform the environment where one would choose to erect the sculpture. While the solitary human figure placed in the centre may give the effect of dissolution, as in the sculptures of Gicommetti (without the latter’s texture) they rather assume an eerie quality of being “withdrawn into themselves”, in a way they are placed in the setting. Taken tactfully in the miniature scale, as these sculptures are, they appear as a strange miracle of things, having lost their natural size, or they must be taken as a world of miniature beings watched over by us. In which case they appear to be violating our sense of scale. These sculptures, can also be seen as symbolic structures having the monumentality of Egyptian pyramid or that of the Sumerian ziggurat which ought to be the scale in which they should enlarged. The strange ambience in which the standing figure or figures placed, further enhanced by the play of lights and shadows, suggests as if some “Mystery”, ritual is being performed, as if the figure was entering into “communion” with some supernatural power.
Narazary’s creative imagination reminds us of the capacity of ancient Indian sculptors for completely transforming huge boulders by directly cutting into the live rock, to carve out religious shrines and evocative deities.
Lalit Gupta has been much more experimental and explorative with the many different kinds of materials like plaster of paris, wood, stone, metal, clay, cement, paper Mache, weed, branches, straws, wooden knots, drift wood, etc. He has himself said elsewhere, how the hilly landscapeenvironment, where he spent his childhood, has influenced his creative thinking. He has also been fascinated by the natural phenomenon of flowing water and floating clouds. In order to create new forms, he has applied great pressure of water jets on clay models, resulting in rounded shapes with very smooth, sensuous or textured surfaces. He has also treated plaster with water and acids, to give a surface which cannot be obtained by tools. In order to search for a more permanent medium for his enlarged versions of smaller maquetes, he experimented with different ingredients for papier-machie e.g.,clay, paper, pulp, gum, etc, which are applied over straw dummies or over driftwood.
His most characteristic sculptures are the ‘Nayak-Nayika on Bench’ series. The figures on the bench in the garden already indicate an association with outdoor landscape and further indicate how much the figure group is conceived as an integrated component of nature. Lalit makes the sculptural form grow in open-air, overflowing its own contours, bulging here and concaving there. Although he has casted some of them in bronze on a small scale, he enlarged a few of his ideas into monumental size, if not in completely imperishable material but a combination of clay, papier-machie and straw, so that at least the sculpture could stand for some months to realize the validity of the idea. The man and woman set on a parapet appear with bulging forms and irregular contour lines, with protrusions sticking out as in driftwood, suggesting human limbs, like upraised arms. The over-flowing surfaces appear alternatively human flesh, anatomical parts, or body covered with dangling drapery. They assume profound thematic existence, looking like poor, starving, roofless, ragged sadhus, dervishes, lepers.
Distortion has been the preoccupation of Deepak Kanal, in order to metamorphose the physical reality. This is so effectively done in his enlarged hand with cupping fingers, in the act of assuming a mudra, becomes very meaningful. Alternatively the sculpture may overflow its boundaries and assume forms in the process of “becoming” and also liquefying, therefore, the contours, bulge or sag, producing disquieting distortions.
The sagging form cut up from the body, as in the melting breast hung on a cube, is expressive of the spark of life which is still left in it, but hinting at the fact of life being drained out of it. Deepak has been fascinated by the freshly cut up chunks of meat in the butcher’s shop which has been the source of such ideas, i.e. what is ‘alive’ is soon going to turn ‘lifeless’. He has found the pliability of wet clay as a suitable vehicle to translate these ideas which are then caste in bronze.
These sculptures cannot be put on a pedestal in a conventional way, but rather, require a cubic block as a seat or a prop, putting the onlooker in much greater contact with the “starkness” of the sculptures.
Gufran Kidwai (who had his initial training in Lucknow) has been innovative in his own way. He created his forms by moulding them into rubber condoms. These clay figurines were cast in aluminum and given a glittering polish but maintaining the crispness of creases which took on the character of thin drapery folds clad over the bodies, resulting in a strange sort of stylization. The sacked packaged females are always bent at the waist and shoulders, as if in perpetual mourning. Kidwai has exploited the possibilities of the posture most effectively. They evoke a mood of helplessness and dependency. Cast individually, they land themselves to formations of varied groupings and arrangements, standing, seated, facing towards, or away, from each other in any numbers. Thus grouped, they appear as refugees, outcasts, prisoners, forsaken, doomed, chosen for execution. They become symbols of humanity which has been enslaved, which has lost all will to survive-symptomatic of the twentieth century. These groups of the doomed also merit to be monumentalized into large scale, which however, is the economic, impossibility. Kidwai has also adopted similar approach to portraiture, where a thin covering layer blurs the physiognomic contours, creating phantasmagoric disfigured faces.
Latika Katt’s bronze heads may be classed as portraits, but they are not strictly speaking likeness or particular individuals in spite of the many physiognomic peculiarities revealed in each face, they have a universal quality in them. Because the sculptor’s starting point is not the face as such, but the “being” behind it, what the face can tell about his life, his experiences and hardships. It is both “persona” and “animus” at the same time.
Thus facial distortions, physiognomic exaggerations, a lumpy nose, a hollowed cheek, a protrusion on the forehead, one to catch a sharp highlight, another to cast a deep shadow, yet another to make conspicuous what is the most characteristic-recourse is taken to all these to bring out a visage which is sad, poignant, and expressive. It portrays the personal suffering of the individual as much as the sadness of the artist herself. The focal point thus is expression, not obviously the facial expression, but the inner self as reflected in the face and as intuited by the artist for whom the human visage has always been an obsession.
Dhruva Mistry, one of the youngest in the lot, has revealed an extraordinary creative sense during his short span of student years. His work shows tremendous abilities of “finite”, elegance, and anatomical accuracy. This formal purity is further enhanced due to his great sensitivity to light as caught by sculptural forms. But more than this fineness of execution are Mistry’s weird imaginative qualities. The woman with four breasts or the seated man with double right arm give an uncanny sense of animation. The reality is made startling when the man and chair coalesce so organically like the androgynous figure of Ardhanariswara, but at the same time making the observer feel “uncomfortable”. Mistry’s variations of female nudes within cubes are his other remarkable group of sculptures done in plaster. The nude is compressed within the cubic block, while its limbs stick out from various planes. An erotic element is added by meticulous rendering of the curved buttocks from behind, which are made capriciously conspicuous by the contrasting straight edges of the cubes. Another series of sculptures consists of enigmatic faces-stout, long-necked, frontal, sinister-the latter quality ingeniously obtained in ceramic heads by effectively using the natural cracks which occur in the clay during the process of firing.
In contrast to the interest in meticulous finish and uncanny imagination of Dhruva Mistry stands Ramnik Kaneria’s work which is based on his handling of clay. He has tried to adopt its pliability to put down his impressions of visual reality in the numerous studies of the nude. In a series of goats in various postures he hasused the potential of wet clay to record swift hand manipulation of this soft material and create suitable forms out of it for casting in metal. But the most effective example is the three buffaloes in a water pool. Swiftly modeled large patches of clay portray the upper parts of their bodies, visible above the water.
The marble slab on which they are placed assumes the role of the aquatic pool. His recent studies for metal casting are based on the form of the bull, executed in jute rags soaked in wet plaster which gives rise to the strong light effects and monumental protrusions and concavities, most appropriate to the massive bovine build of the animal.
In many ways these sculptures of the young artists discussed above possess “surreal”, “romantic” and “expressionistic” qualities, if we use the nomenclature of modern categories and the varied features associated with them. They do not subscribe to the cool restraint of cubism or constructivism and their grace and aestheticism. Their efforts must be given the recognition they deserve. Will they ever have the opportunities to execute them in the size, material and site as is befitting them? Will the Indian society rise to the occasion to provide the wherewithal to these bold creative projects so that posterity is able to know sculptural achievements of the generation - a phenomenon for which our ancients have left tremendous evidence?
The use of fibre glass around the 1970s has also opened up new sculptural possibilities and it too was attempted first in Baroda. Some of the nudes and the figures of dogs were executed in fibre glass by Dhruva Mistry and gave them their starkness. Ravinder Reddy has been another young sculptor to use it professionally especially its starting illusionistic results. The initial trick is do figure life-size and Reddy puts them in everyday dress and paints over the whole sculpture, ranging from skin complexions to garish hues of the girl’s dress, which enhances the illusionism so that association is with a typical character that you meet on the road side. Such as experience was first created by American Pop sculptors. The experience can become psychologically overwhelming when the character may be appearing cheaply sexy making you feel vulnerable, as in his two standing girls.
In this attitude of taking a chunk of everyday reality through the human figure in a certain situation and presenting it with a starkness is quite startling to the onlooker partly also due to the unexpected change in material. But the manner in which Prithpal Singh Ladi chooses the object and isolated it is quite drastic. His ‘type-writer’ may also be in metal and some of the nuts and bolts modeled very illusionistically but it does not have its functional mechanism. Thus his transformation of familiar objects raises questions and his personal association or meaning assumes significance. His ‘Pages from my Diary’, would imply the personal element which is suggested as the faces embedded on moulded sheets could be the concretization of hidden memories. In this way Ladi gives a new slant to the conventional “still-life” mode.
Such realism (parallel to Ravindra Reddy’s fibre glass sculptures) but in terracotta again in life-size figures, has been attempted by another young sculptor, Trupti Patel, with all sensibility and subtlety of the modeling process. The modeling in clay popular level figure types and even animals has been continued by another woman sculptor Pushpamala, who works on slightly less than life-size scale and gives a caricature-like quality to her figures which evoke humour rather than pathos or fear. These developments in terracotta are significant new features of contemporary Indian sculpture subsequent is Subramanyan’s and contrast to folk and tribal terracotta inspired sculpture of some of the South Indian sculptors like Mookiah, and P.S. Nandhan and the craft-oriented terracottas of the Santiniketan sculptor, Ajit Chakravarty.
The cycle seems to have come full circle with the imageries of some of the young generation of sculptors who had assembled in a camp in Kasoli in 1984, among whom Ladi and Pushpamala including some young South Indian sculptors who had been working in Baroda at that time. Owing allegiance to Ramkinkar, perhaps because one of them, Krishna Kumar, happened to have spent some time in Santiniketan they used his surface roughness and “ugly” rather than graceful form. They also exploit the surface roughness if working in direct cement or clay, like the figuresof Krishna Kumar and Asokan Poduval, or create suffering or defiant characters if modeling in plaster of fibre glass like the figures of Rimzon placed helter skelter directly on the floor without pedestals. The sculpture group creates its own environment in which the onlooker fears to tread.
Krishna Kumar’s figures in their own way are substitutes of present day archetypes of human character expressed through the kind of proportions physiognomy and attitudes that are given to them who appear infused with suffering, hardening and rebellion. Rimzon has conceived a very strong image of a seated figure blatantly sexually charged with harsh facial expressions suggestive of the resultant tension. Though the image appears obsessed within its own heightened tension it presumably also substitutes for the parallel quality manifest in the society collectively. Their works are telling concretization of the grappling with disparate contradictions and dialectic among materials, reality, creativity, environment, emotions.
However, I would consider their works as continuation of the spirit of the group of sculptors discussed above who worked in the 70s and already moved away from the ideas of elegance and grace and sculpture placed on pedestals to be admired by going around it. One is also reminded of the roughness and garishness of the Ganpati ‘modelleurs’ and the terracotta works of Bhagwant Singh exhibited early in this century at Lucknow. But the latter group seems to be more coherent and socially conscious of contemporary harsh realities in social, political, and economic spheres and would consider their sculptural qualities as reflections of these. The modern Indian sculptural manifestations may be rather young in the recent decades these have turned bolder and adventurous to make the manifestations in modern Indian painting look as stagnant in comparison.
Published in Kalavriti quarterly magazine of art, no. 19, January-March 1990, pp.2-44