Torii Gateway and Enclosure – Dark Secrets /Archana Hebbar Colquhoun
The murder of Naina Sahni – shot dead by her husband and her body stuffed in a tandoor oven to be burnt to cinder at an upmarket restaurant in New Delhi coincided with my exhibition of Torii sculptures and paintings at the LTG gallery in June 1995.
The principal installation of a Torii gateway in this exhibition was made using wooden planks that were coated with a clay and straw mixture. The Torii structure was erected with supports of low brickwork walls arranged in the form of a courtyard of a traditional Indian home. The brick structure contained within its walls mini gateways made of two bricks placed upright with one horizontal brick placed across at the top, to create little entryways.
At the start of designing the installation, I had originally planned to place in the courtyard space a collection of moulded objects that acted as signifiers or markers of early human history.
This idea of attempting to depict the history of civilization suddenly gave way when I heard of a horrific “Breaking News” item of the Tandoor Murder case just as I was working on the installation.
After I heard the news, my work changed – the structure remained more or less the same as initially planned – but the contents that were to be placed in the courtyard were replaced by objects such as charred remains of coconut shells, other burnt articles, and a full head of a woman’s hair as if yanked in one stroke and flung at the foot of the Torii gateway.
The uploaded image shown below is a doctored one with two images of the same work almost mirroring each other. When the main Torii work was created in the gallery as an installation I had titled it “Boundaries of Experience.” Broadly speaking, the title still holds even after the intrusion – into my work in progress – of an unrelated subject that of a gruesome murder that took place at a walking distance from the gallery.
An important lesson I learnt from doing this show was that when an idea starts to take the shape as an art object a dynamic, external entity may completely hijack your carefully planned art work.
The original title of the work was “Boundaries of Experiences”
Shalini Patel- Banana Tree Drawings during Lockdown/ Archana Hebbar Colquhoun
Shalini Patel’s drawings, some in pencil and others in charcoal were done during lockdown. Nowhere to go, nothing much to do outside with friends, acquaintances or passers-by; she had all the time on her hands and the opportunity to observe the banana trees in her neighbour’s yard. For these drawings the view was from the first floor balcony of her house.
It’s these banana plants that lent themselves to serve as artistic models to Shalini’s black and white drawings of 2021. Before we discuss the formal content of the drawings and Shalini’s very own interpretation of this tropical wonder of nature, let’s look at the distinctive form of a banana plant. In fact, there are three distinctive forms in the main within a single banana plant – the trunk, the fruits, and the leaves. A banana plant is often referred to as a tree due its size.
The trunk of a banana plant has a plump tubular form, soft, flexible, fibrous within and covered in layered sheaths, unlike the wooden trunks of shrubs and trees. The leaves are large, very large, and radiate out and become floppy all too soon. Each leaf is an individual growth separating out directly from the trunk, starting off as a cylinder that slowly unfurls and opens out to the familiar shape of a banana leaf. Then there are the bananas themselves, which grow in multi-levelled clusters, each banana pointing upwards and attached to a thick stalk that droops from the weight of several dozens of bananas, and at the end of the stalk grows a large purple-hued blossom of tightly packed petals.
All parts of a banana plant have their use. The fruits and the blossoms are edible, the leaves are used in cooking and most commonly serve as disposable plates in India, and the fibre in the trunks provide material for making ropes, baskets and mats etc. Parts of the trunk are also edible. It is said that each plant produces fruits and blossoms just once in its lifetime and then the plant is cut-down and in its place there’s a new plant ready and waiting to become a full-fledged banana plant. Considering this, Shalini’s drawings are perhaps the only record of the existence of those specific banana plants, which lived through the lockdown and by now will have become dead matter. Shalini observed the changes the banana plants underwent and recorded them in sketches and drawings.
Form and Content of the Drawings
Banana plants have been widely represented in Indian art and art of other countries. Although banana plants are ubiquitous in the tropical climate of India as Shalini said to me she had never before drawn a banana plant or its many plant parts until last year.
The drawings are variously titled “The Banana Tree,” “Composition from the Banana Tree,” “Friends to Look At,” “Song of a Bird,” “The Night,” etc. and “Composition,”
The works range from the depictive to the abstract. The earlier works in this group of drawings were more depictive such as those titled “Compositions from a Banana Tree” and progressively the drawings became more minimalist and abstract and simply titled “Composition.”
When an artist titles a work “Composition” or “Untitled” there is an immediate understanding on the part of the viewer that the subject matter or the formal reality of the work has been constructed as a design, bereft to a large extent of marks of identity as to what the work is about. The works titled “Composition” in Shalini’s banana tree drawings are arrangements of elements of a banana plant, such as a small section of a banana leaf, a portion of a stem or the trunk and other forms within the plant. Shalini devices ways to depict the forms and textures of a banana leaf such as the ridges that extend from the spine to the curvy edge of the leaf, which are a series of parallel lines, the leaf in the process of unfurling, and the natural splits that occur along the ridges in the leaf over time. We may presume that the various elements in any given drawing in this series are put together by breaking apart the view and arranging the elements into a composition drawn from the artist’s imagination.
However, in the case of these works the compositions are as they existed within the growth of the banana trees, which the artist observed and then drew without rearranging any of the elements. It was a matter of merely selecting a frame consisting of a pre-existing composition that appealed to the artist. Still, it is to be noted that many of the drawings have compositions made up of diagonals and radiating lines, which we may not associate with the vertical trunks and the characteristic curved forms of a banana plant.
The compositions have areas that are filled with textures drawn from the banana plant with negative spaces in-between, creating a play of dark and light forms. Despite the abstraction and given the non-descriptive title “Composition” of many of the works they leave no room for doubt as to the source of the subject, namely, that the forms and textures are clearly drawn from a banana plant, however fragmented, and no other plant or object.
The title “Compositions from a Banana Tree” that many of the works carry is telling. The preposition “from” denotes that the artist is not the all-powerful creator for whom subject matter is something to simply reach out to and grab and make it the very own property of the artist. Through the title the artist acknowledges that the “Banana Tree,” the protagonist of the works, is the giver and the artist the receiver.
Many of the drawings have representational elements and are simple narratives of fleeting activities of birds and squirrels among the banana trees. The work titled “Friends to look at” is one such drawing where the elements are drawn with a sensitivity and expressiveness that I wouldn’t hesitate to say are feminine in their impact. The drawing depicts squirrels running along a wire, which crosses through banana trees. The work is not merely charming, it has the pathos of a life lived during a prolonged period of a global lockdown – pitting freedom against incarceration.
Another work, a charcoal drawing titled “Song of a Bird “shows a bird in the left foreground with its beak open. The work evokes sound through visual representation and by the choice of words for the title.
In some of the works we see people on the ground but they are diminutive in the presence of the seemingly towering banana trees. Even the clusters of upturned bananas look like groups of people wearing shrouds, huddled together. These works give prominence to nature and raise the debate of man Vs nature.
The work in charcoal titled “The night” has many surprising features. The night is not dark; however, the large banana leaf, again only a fragment of a leaf- its lower half- occupying nearly three quarters of the space within the composition – along with other elements in the drawing is depicted in dark tones. Touching the edge of the leaf is the full moon surrounded by a dark circle and in the vicinity is a lone star, prominent because of its shape that of the Star of David. Shalini’s interpretation of a night-time view is unique/original.
Shalini’s set of drawings titled “Harmony” are being exhibited in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, at Akriti Art Gallery from 5th. to 9th. Sept., 2022. The exhibition is sponsored by the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Akademi.
Folk Arts of India: Gond
Gond art form, as the name suggests is the art form that is practised by the largest one of the largest tribe in India, i.e. the Gond tribe which is housed in central India in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh etc. The word Gond derives its roots from the Dravidian expression, Kond which implies ‘the green mountain’. In the recent times, the importance and the value of the Gond art form has gained such zeinth that the Indian government has stepped in to preserve and profess the art form.
In the central regions of India, paintings have been flourishing since the 1400s. Paintings are an integral part of the Gond traditional practices. The Gonds were of the opinion that viewing images and paintings brought in good luck for them and helped them gain prosperity. The tribe also used the art form to pass on the knowledge of history down the generations. It is due to this very reason that the Gonds traditionally have been creating motifs, tattoos etc. on the floors, walls of their homes.
For the Gonds, the art form is a means to illustrate the close connection the people share with the spirit of nature. The Gonds were of the strong faith that every natural element be it the mountains, the sun, the rivers had a spirit in them. For the people, recreating these acts in art was an act of worship and reverence to that spirit. The mighty Indian mythologies are some other sources of inspiration for the Gond art form.
The Gond art form has striking features in the way the lines are drawn in them in such way that pique the curiosity of the viewer into the subject instantly. A sense of movement and flow was established by the use of waving lines and curvy strokes. The spread of the dots and the dashes in the Gond paintings complement the geometric shapes and patterns employed. The art form regularly employed the shapes like that of fish, water droplets to etch out an expressive value and weight to the painting.
The Gond art form employed sharp, defined colours in the paintings with the canvas being dominated by bright hues of red, yellow and white background to highlight the contrast. The sources of the colours were all natural ranging from plant sap, coloured soil to charcoal.
The Gond art form in contemporary times has reached the global scale with the efforts of modern artists and the steps of the government to preserve the art form.
The General having crossed a Torii boundary – Drawing with a Torii and a figure
The trajectory of my art practice takes on a zigzag path sometimes; and at other times a circuitous one or a U-turn that I didn’t expect to take. The work “The General” is one such. I started off with figure sculptures and then went on to study life drawing at Boston University.
Treasure Art Gallery opens with Prabhakar Kolte’s ‘The Mind’s Eye’
`Ritu Beri inaugurates the exhibition, Kapil Dev sends a video message to the artist, who is back in the city after 15 years
The Mind’s Eye: a seminal exhibition of Prabhakar Kolte Curator: Uma Nair 9th October – 10th December 2021 11.00am -7.00pm, Monday to Saturday Treasure Art Gallery, D-24, Defence Colony, New Delhi- 110024
New Delhi, 9th October, 2021: Veteran Abstractionist Prabhakar Kolte’sseminal
exhibitionThe Mind’s Eye, curated by Uma Nair was inaugurated at Treasure Art Gallery in the city by renowned fashion designer Ritu Beri in the presence of CDirector General, ICCR; Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, National Gallery of Modern Art; diplomats; eminent artists like Arpita Singh, Paramjeet Singh, Rameshwar Broota; prominent gallerist & art collectors.
Kapil Dev, former Indian Cricketer who could not be present at the event, said in a video message, “Looking forward to seeing Prabhakar Kolte’s beautiful abstract painting at Treasure Art Gallery in Delhi. This will add colour through everybody. To me definitely. All the best and hope I can have one painting in my house too. I wish everybody whoever is involved, good luck.”
Treasure Art Gallery is a contemporary art gallery owned by Tina Chandroji with two partners. The avant garde gallery located in the heart of Delhi’s upscale Defence Colony is made up of two exhibition spaces that makes it one of the biggest spaces for exhibitions in Delhi. TAG plans to work with emerging and established artists with the central aim of allowing their work to grow both in terms of production of new projects and the making of new exhibitions.
TAG launched officially on 9th Oct 2021 with debut solo exhibition of the abstract master Prabhakar Kolte one of the greatest mentors of the Sir J.J. School of Art Mumbai. For curator Uma Nair, “The most intrinsic quality of the gallery is the light filled window spaces and the fact that you can glimpse the masterpiece in the window as you pass by in your car.”
Kolte a famed Professor of J.J. School of Art and deeply loved by his students and collectors alike was present for the show. He ranks amongst India’s finest artists according to Nair who has followed his work for more than 3 decades. The seminal exhibition includes the portraits and still life works made during the early stages of his career, the paintings made during the formative years and the mature works made during and after realizing the hallmark art lingua that established his position in the modern art discourse.
One of the pioneers of Indian Abstract Expressionism, Kolte has been successfully carrying forward his unique abstract language for over five decades with timely innovations, experiments and changes within the same, in order to make the paintings fresh and alive. TAG houses the largest inventory of the artist’s works till now and has the ability to create a new collector base for the artist.
Uma Nair, Curator, The Mind’s Eye, said, “The Kolte solo show has stellar works of art and they range over a period of time while most belong to the past 10 years. Amongst canvases and works on paper and drawings are three intriguing installations that add to Kolte’s repertoire of creativity. The show is expected to run for a few months so that many art lovers and students of art have the opportunity to discover this great master from Mumbai.”
“I’m Delighted to inaugurate the Treasure Art Gallery, with an exhibit of Prabhakar Kolte, a personal favourite. I believe this show is going to be a visual delight for one and all. The Treasure art gallery is also going to add to the vibrant art scene of Delhi. We look forward to some unique collaborations between art and fashion to blur the lines between fashion and art. Congratulations Treasure Art Gallery and I wish you all the very best. You guys are going to rock.” said Ritu Beri, Fashion Designer and Founder Luxury League.
“We would like to add to the city’s character of art shows and hope to expand our reach with established artists as well as emerging contemporaries,” says Chandroji a second-generation art collector. “We hope to serve the arts in many ways and are looking forward to establishing new connections in Delhi which has a thriving art market.” Said Tina Chandorji, Director Treasure Art Gallery
“I have been practicing my way of painting and it will continue till my last breath. For me painting is my passion, it’s my breath and life. I am really glad to showcase my diverse practice with the official launch of Treasure Art Gallery in Delhi. I have full faith that Treasure Art Gallery will be a great treasure to the existing art ecosystem and will definitely add value to it. My best wishes and support are there with TAG in this new journey.” – Prabhakar Kolte, Artist
“Looking forward to viewing ‘Prabhakar Kolte’ – legendary abstract artist at the inauguration of Treasure art gallery” – Nupur Goenka, Director, GD Goenka Group
“We are delighted with the opening of Treasure Art Gallery which will be featuring the honourable Prabhakar Kolte. We fully embrace the beauty of Indian art and are looking forward to the opening.” said Mr. Ramesh Chauhan, Chairman Bisleri
“Treasure Art Gallery TAG launches itself in Delhi with a grand show of recent works of the master abstractionist Prabhakar Kolte of Mumbai. Impressive and gorgeous in range, size and depth, the show presents Kolte in his well-regarded essentials and yet discovering something new and unexpected.
Done largely during the pandemic, the art underlines a colourful zest for life. An intense spontaneity, well-tuned to the multiple rhythms of colours, runs across fiving you enough freedom to discover your own personal intimations of meaning and memory. A very well-appointed gallery, elegantly designed, with a magnificent show,” said Ashok Vajpeyi, Indian Poet, Noted cultural & Arts Administrator
About Treasure Art Gallery:
Located in the heart of New Delhi at Defence Colony, Treasure Art Gallery (TAG) is born out of a vision to build an institution dedicated to modern and contemporary Indian art. Treasure Art Gallery (TAG) is formally launching itself into the contemporary Indian art sector with a select retrospective exhibition of the veteran modernist Prabhakar Kolte from Mumbai.
TAG a gallery with a difference, is aimed primarily to offer a panoramic view of the arts they represent. We aim to encourage collaboration with institutions and artists by bringing in an active discourse around art and to create business partnerships. TAG also aims to support seminars, workshops, lectures, discussions, and talks that contextualise art within critical dialogue. We truly respect and value the modern masters and simultaneously encourage emerging, cutting-edge contemporary artists. Our objective is to provide a cohesive environment where younger artists are able to contextualise their work alongside the masters of Indian art and find avenues for their own journeys.
About Prabhakar Kolte:
Prabhakar Kolte was born in 1946, in a village called Nerurpar of District Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. He received his Diploma from Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1968. He also taught there between 1972 and 1974. The artist has a number of solo shows to his credit. He has participated in many important group exhibitions both nationally and internationally. He is the recipient of ‘Druga Bhagwat Award’ for his Book ‘From Art to Art’ – a compilation of various articles on art, in 2010. He has been writing about international and national artists for the Mauj publication (Marathi magazine).
About His Work
One of the pioneers of Indian Abstract Expressionism, Kolte has been successfully carrying forward his unique abstract language for over five decades with timely innovations, experiments and changes within the same, in order to make the paintings fresh and alive.
His early works show a strong influence of Paul Klee, the Swiss artist and teacher whose childlike figures belie the sophistication of his richly textured surfaces. Kolte’s abstract layering with paint echoes cityscapes where the signs and textures give a glimpse into his modernist consciousness. His early works are characterised by a single, dominant colour in the background, on which lighter and more complex geometric or organic forms are juxtaposed.
The operative system that Kolte found for his works was in a way colour field, but fundamentally different from that of the colour field abstractionists of his time like Marc Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still and so on. What he made was not even remotely similar to the paintings by KCS Paniker in the south or GR Santhosh or Biren De in the north. He was even different from his immediate predecessors like Raza, Gaitonde, Ram Kumar and Swaminathan. But the most interesting thing about Kolte is that, throughout his career he has been having the spirit of this international abstract movement that later condensed into a life philosophy rather than being just a mere art style or lingua. Kolte is a conversion of life into terms of colour. It occupied everything pertaining to life; from music to harsh mundaneness. Using an aesthetic alchemy, he turned them into pictorial expressions that opened up wider and narrower slits allowing entry to the viewer and sealing it the next moment, a sort of visual trapping for aesthetical engagement.
Abstractionist Prabhakar Kolte’s Exhibition,’The Mind’s Eye’ opens 9th Oct
Prabhakar Kolte was born in 1946 and received his Diploma from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1968. He also taught there between 1972 and 1974. His early works show a strong influence of Paul Klee, the Swiss artist and teacher whose child like figures belie the sophistication of his richly textured surfaces.
Treasure Art Gallery cordially invites you to the Preview of this
Veteran Abstractionist, Prabhakar Kolte’s the seminal exhibition The Mind’s Eye
Curated by Uma Nair Inauguration by Ritu Beri
The other dignitaries who will be a part of the exhibition opening and inauguration are Shri. Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, NGMA; Shri. Dinesh K Patnaik, Director General, ICCR; Diplomats; Eminent Artists; Prominent Gallerists & Art Collectors.
The Mind’s Eye by Prabhakar Kolte Treasure Art Gallery 9th October, 2021, 6pm onwards D/24, Defence Colony, New Delhi – 110024
The Preview will be followed by wine and cheese The exhibition will be on view until 10th December, 2021. Monday-Saturday, 11am-7pm
A Novel Solution – My First Sculpture/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun
Life to Art (and back to Life)
I saw the person walking backwards, moving with a rhythm well practised, as they would when facing forward and walking straight on. So far so good but within a split second the image of the person walking became clear.
I was amazed at the sheer simplicity of the innovation.
The problem resolution was ingenious. Footwear was cleverly adapted to be worn back to front, making the body of the man face the opposite direction to his feet.
A passing glance at this man walking on the street, comfortable in his skin, gave me little information as to whether his condition was congenital or was the result of an amputation (medically required or a deliberate act as in “Slumdog Millionaire”). Whatever the case may have been, it was certain that the pair of shoes he wore were of the same size.
The Making of the Sculpture
Carving a life-sized figure not only requires technical knowhow of how a form is to be sculpted and also the wherewithal (studio space, tools etc.) but most importantly a material that would lend itself to giving form and expression to the image you have in mind. I found a ready solution in the form of large blocks of polystyrene that were available in Tokyo outlets, easy to carve, lightweight for a person of my physical frame to move and manipulate as required.
When I made the sculpture and explained to friends and viewers that the concept of a man walking with his feet facing backwards was no allegory or a metaphor but something I had actually witnessed, few believed me – at least readily.
The sculpture shown below is a faithful depiction of my memory of the person I passed by in the street in as far as the main feature of “a man walking backwards” (seen from the point of view of the feet) is concerned. But there are other metaphorical features to the form of the body, all of which are hidden at the back. They are revealed only when the viewer goes around the sculpture to inspect the feet. (Refer to note below)
NOTE: The Secret Weapons Hidden Behind
The man carries a bundle on his back which is integral to his body such that the bundle which could be a bag of tricks is also a part of his physiognomy.
The arm that he conceals behind is a formation of his extremity that can act as a tool that he could spring as a surprise weapon at an opponent who may pose a threat.
Art and Life are interrelated, one does not exist without the other and the two come together unexpectedly and at surprising intervals.
An example of this is a recent reference in digital media to the same issue that relates to my sculpture ….. (From Life to Art and back to Life)
On one of my many subconsciously motivated searches on Google, I one day came across the following photo article about Howie Desjarlais. It was now my turn to be taken by surprise.
I had witnessed a scene, I made a sculpture of the principal figure in the scene – the figure frozen in three dimensional form….and then, as if to reiterate the whole experience of me seeing and making of an image, I come across a document about Howie Desjarlias that indirectly pays homage to the life of the unnamed individual and to me an entirely anonymous person who I pass by on the street and who becomes the subject of my first life-size sculpture.
” …he landscapes yards around Regina to earn money for his family, despite losing both of his legs from the knee down. (Cory Coleman/CBC)”
Archana Hebbar Colquhoun
The General having crossed a Torii boundary/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun
The trajectory of my art practice takes on a zigzag path sometimes; and at other times a circuitous one or a U-turn that I didn’t expect to take.
The work “The General” is one such. I started off with figure sculptures and then went on to study life drawing at Boston University.
After returning to Tokyo, where I started my art practice, instead of going forward on the path of figurative works, I veered off into abstraction and minimalist expression – the Torii gateway being the most significant of them all.
Once I had done a body of work using that very simple form of a Torii as a sculpture, as drawings, in installations etc. using a range of medium and materials, I yet again changed direction and returned to figure drawing.
Here is an example of a drawing that came to me after a not very straightforward journey.
The Torii form is only alluded to in this work. Why the image of a General though?
One of the most magnificent set of Toriis in Japan is in the heart of Tokyo, all of those Toriis leading to the famous Yasukuni Jinja (a Shinto Shrine) founded by the Meiji emperor in June 1869. The shrine commemorates the death of Japanese soldiers and members of public in a number of wars starting from the civil war also known as the Japanese Revolution of the late 1860s through to the First Indo-China war.
The shrine also commemorates over a thousand convicted Japanese war criminals from World War II.
In any war, whether you consider the dead soldiers as war heroes or war criminals there is always a General. It is this figure of a General that is depicted in the drawing.
The Torii represents a boundary. Wars are waged to gain control over territories that lie beyond a nation’s boundary.
For more information on the Yasukuni Jinja follow the Wikipedia link provided below.
Spic Macay – Pt. Rajan Mishra – IIT Delhi Program
The pandemic is growing rapidly all over the world. With aim of spreading hope and remembering Pandit Rajan Mishra ji (who passed away on the 25th of April), SPIC MACAY dedicates its online 3-day IIT Delhi Diamond Jubilee year program to him, the details of which are given in the link: https://spicmacay.org/rendezvousiitdelhidj
🎥🎬 April 30th, 6:00 pm, Friday: Cinema Classic “Hirak Rajar Deshe” by Shri Satyajit Ray, followed by an interaction with the expert, Tuhinabha Majumdar ji Link: bit.ly/smcinemaclassic
🙇♂️1st May, 3:00 pm, Saturday Afternoon : Great Masters Series- Vidwan Lalgudi G Jayaraman, followed by an interaction with G J R Krishnan ji Link: bit.ly/smlivezoom
🎤🎻🎼May 1st, 6:00 pm, Saturday Evening: Classical Evening Series with Vidushi Nandini Bedekar (Hindustani vocalist) Link: bit.ly/smlivezoom
🎨May 2nd, 12 noon, Sunday: Craft and Folk Series with Shri Rajaram Sharma (Pichwai Painting) Link: bit.ly/smvolunteermeet
Madan Lal Gupta – Innovations in Bricks/Archana H Colquhoun
This is an extract from a long series of exchanges via email and WhatsApp with the sculptor, Madan Lal Gupta, which started in November 2017 (with me living in the U.K. and the artist in Varanasi, India). The exchanges are largely in the form of an interview, with me posing questions to the artist. However, within the framework of an interview I included various constructs for a study of the artist’s work. I interspersed my queries with narrations of my own experiences drawn from my practices as an art critic and a visual artist. The exchange(s) will be referred to at various points as “the Project.”
The Methodology of the Project
In the exchanges with Madan Lal, I employed a method of inquiry, which free-wheeled between art historical methodologies such as formalism, iconography, semiotics, biographical study, psychoanalysis, and social and critical theories, among others; the interchange between methods happened spontaneously as the project grew.
The project with Madan Lal gave me the opportunity to experiment with the uses and applications of various art methodologies. I would like to use a term “integrated methodology” to describe the mixed approach I used in putting together this project. When I started working on the project with the artist, I already had my bag of tricks ready. The stratagems grew and multiplied as the project developed.
Due to the passion and involvement that Madan Lal brought to this project, providing me with (unwavering commitment) all of the visual and written material I requested of him, at various stages, the exchanges took on a form so expansive that they turned into a major project.
Without an artist cooperating and participating in a synergistic working with a critic on the study of their work, a project such as the present one would not come to fruition. The project by no means is complete and the exchanges can be presented in a number of different formats.
My ideas for an integrated methodology for the study of visual art came about as a direct result of me setting aside the practice of art criticism to reinvent myself as a visual artist in the late 1980s and 1990s, after I moved to Tokyo.
Aspects of the integrated methodology that I employed in this project can be seen in the extracts below on Madan Lal’s brick works. Simply put the methodology has a non-linear, inquiry-based approach into which is woven an analytical working of the study of an artist’s work taking the artist’s own articulations of their thought processes, out of which their artworks materialize.
A multidirectional investigation, deconstruction and reconstruction, associative thinking, and a seamless reversal of roles between the artist and the critic are the chief characteristics of the integrated methodology I developed while working on the project.
Through this method of inquiry a meeting, merging, and shifting of roles of the artist and the theoretician takes place. By involving the artist in an exchange that is unpredictable and which changes course unexpectedly, the artist is provoked into reassessing their work and looking back at the artistic choices they made.
By participating in such an exchange, the artist can engage in modes of self-inquiry, which the artist perhaps had not even considered possible or at the very least may have dismissed such self-reflections as being unnecessary to the development of their art practice.
In my experience, however, the artist would ultimately find such interactions with a critic to be an enriching experience. [Refer to the section “Artist’s Feedback” provided at the end of the write up.]
Archana, Mon, 18 Dec, 2017 (one of the questions from earlier on in the project)
You have worked with various materials: brick, stone/marble, iron (steel), bronze, clay and others perhaps. To my question as to which of these materials are your preferred materials and the reasons for the preference you had responded by saying you give equal importance to all of these materials, except perhaps marble since you have worked extensively in marble.
Madan Lal responds
*(Below is a Google translation of the artist’s original text in Hindi with minor amendments made by me for clarity of expression.)
“Art is life that takes the form of an art work which is articulated through various materials. The material is a body into which life enters as a soul and this is not the importance of the material itself, but how the soul resides within that material, the whole meaning of a work connects to that soul. The quality of the material can be soft like soil, smooth like marble, rough and abrasive like stone, cold and hot like iron, shiny like brass, and runny like water. There are different kinds of materials. The artist gives birth to his art in these materials from time to time according to the needs of his artistic expression. That is why I believe that material is just a material for me, but its inherent qualities energize my art, give it longevity, make it eternal, which lives continuously over time.” Madan Lal
[Note on the flow of exchanges with reference to the above: Madan Lal’s answers are at times tangential , perhapsdue to their spontaneous and heart-felt nature. The artist, however, contributes positively to the discussion and his answers shed light on his relationship with the materials he uses and the forms he creates. ]
Archana on Madan Lal’s use of bricks as an art material
I would like to take up your brick works for discussion. I am especially curious as to what sort of forms you are able to create using bricks. Bricks have their limitation in terms of form and size and they are man-made products used almost entirely in the construction industry.
The texture and the brittle nature of the composition of bricks and the material used to create them, followed by the baking process, seems to be totally at variance with the forms you create from marble, which are sensuous, smooth, clean, and free-flowing.
Brick as a material is both hard and fragile, crumbling and disintegrating when pressure is applied, and poses special challenges for an artist.
When and how did you come upon the idea of using bricks in your work? And could you take me through your journey of brick works?
Also, I’d like to see images of your brick works with the dates, dimensions of the works, and places where you made them.
Disclaimer: In the excerpts, some of Madan Lal’s responses are in Hindi, which have been translated into English. His responses in English have been edited to make the text homogeneous in expression.
Madan Lal respondswith a poetic description of the qualities of bricks, which is followed by a chronology of his brick works, with narrations by the artist on the processes and concepts of his works from each period. Quoted below is the artist’s original statement in Hindi.
“Eent ke murtishilp mein vyaapt vishamta, khurdurapan, saadgi, arthavyavastha, tapasya, vinamrata, antarangata, prakrutik vastuon aur prkriyaon ki sundarata shamil hai aur yehi sabhi soundarya ke gun hai” Madan Lal
*Note: Below is a google translation of the above statement in Hindi by the artist on bricks, which will be referred to at various places below in the context of discussing specific works.
“A brick sculpture has coarseness, simplicity, economy, austerity, humility, intimacy – encompassing the beauty of natural objects and processes, which are the attributes of all beauty” Madan Lal
Chronology of the Brick Works1979 to 2021
Artist’s Narration on his first brick works – 1979 Baroda (parts of the text not in inverted commas are edited versions of the artist’s statements)
I worked with bricks for the first time when I came to Baroda in 1978 after graduating from Banaras Hindu University. I had to start a new life in Baroda due to the “death of my beloved guru Ram Chhatpar.”
“I was worried how I could live and work in a city like Baroda.” “I had to prepare/ create new sculptures for my one man show in New Delhi in the coming month of April 1979”
“My financial condition was very bad.”
“Just before coming (to) Baroda, I had an interesting experience which changed my “thought” regarding the choice of material. In Banaras, one day I was going with some of my senior friends to the fine arts faculty’s canteen. On the way, I saw a lot of bricks lying on the roadside and I asked Sumita Chakrawarty…” ” Didi, can I do sculptures in bricks?” She answered, “Yes, why not?” The reply was (God-gifted).
In January 1979, I joined the department of Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda as a non-collegiate student.
“I was in a great hurry to begin my new works due to the show. Within a week I had collected many “sized – unsized” bricks from the pathway from the faculty premises.” “So many raw, some of them unshaped and different”…. “After the collection, I requested Krishna Chhatpar Sir for carving tools etc;”
“A new question arose as to what to carve in bricks? I had not much time to wait for ideas or inspiration – then I looked at my last works (bronzes) where I had made ‘Reclining Figures’”… “and I created (a) sculpture in brick ”.. “a reclining figure of a woman, very simple, suggestive and impressive. ”
“What will be (the) second, third, and more? Then I arranged (a) few in groups of 2, 3, and 4, 5 or more – vertical, horizontal, standing and lying on the ground.” “At the same time, I got many kinds of very simple shape(s) like figure(s), leaf, bud, flower almost very abstract.” “Finally, in 2-3 months I made 9 sculptures in brick. The experience was a wonder for me and I realized that art is only in you not any other place. ”
“The first experience in Baroda with students and with teachers too, were not much pleasant, maybe I guessed that I was not able to interact and impress them intellectually. ”
“In this regard, I hesitate (d) to (approach) and show my works to them. Anyhow everywhere some fortunate (event happens) in your life,” “I found encouragement” from Nasreen Mohamedi “always during my stay in Baroda.”
Few Images of brick works made in Baroda 1979
Critical Appraisal of the Baroda works – Archana
Madan Lal’s first attempts at using bricks to make sculptures cannot be considered as particularly innovative in their form and artistic expression. However, the artistic value of a work need not be judged based on the level of creativity or artistic skill but on factors such as “problem solving” and in the timely production of artworks within the deadline of a project.
Also, Madan Lal was able to find a solution to his lack of financial resources to create works for an impending exhibition by picking up a material that cost nothing and which was readily available on the roadside.
Another point that the artist made elsewhere in the exchanges was that these brick works solved the problem of costs further by him doing away with the use of pedestals to display the works in the exhibition.
These first bricks works of Madan Lal’s can be best described using the term “Vishamta,” taken from the artist’s own description of the qualities of bricks. The synonyms of the word are: irregular, coarse, asymmetrical, a separation or gap, a contrast between things etc. The last few synonyms “gap, separation, contrast” can be understood to mean a gap between what is expected of the artwork and what is actually delivered.
It could also refer to the artist’s feeling of a disconnect with Baroda, which he saw as an elite institution. This was in the early days of his Baroda experience.
Madan Lal, uses another term “khurdurapan” which aptly describes the rough and unpolished quality of his first brick works made from bricks manufactured in India for building purposes.
There is one other aspect to how the artist approaches his art practice. He uses the term “God-Gifted.” The belief in providence/divine intervention is something that most contemporary artists – who have found professional success that is out of the ordinary – almost never refer to.
Madan Lal responds
Artist’s Narration – 1987 Tokyo
The next time I did Brick sculptures was in Tokyo at Tama Art University. I think you had seen the show at Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo in 1987 with Rajeev Lochan’s paintings. The response to these works gave me recognition as an artist in Japan, and I received many offers for shows from Japanese galleries. I was awarded the Semi Grand Prize for the works. This sort of recognition took me to new heights in my artistic pursuits. I carved 225 bricks in 2 months and made 5 sculptural compositions. I worked around 8-10 hours every day. I consider these works to be original in design; the chosen forms are unique but rooted in our native Indian tradition.
These works started off as experiments using bricks but soon developed into planned, organized works that are complex in design and concept.
Critical Appraisal of the Tokyo works – Archana
Madan Lal’s next set of brick works done in Tokyo in 1987 are a contrast to his first set of brick works made in Baroda. It is these works made in Tokyo using a superior quality of bricks and having had time to develop his artistic ideas and skills in using bricks and other materials in sculpture that advanced Madan Lal’s career as a sculptor, granting him recognition in his profession that was life changing. He has not looked back since his first successes in Japan.
He came into his own with his Tokyo works. The works have qualities of innovation, depth of artistic expression, beauty and aesthetics, and a new belief in himself as an artist of repute. He demonstrates through these works that he can think on a grand scale and has the courage to take risks and come out on top.
In these works he brought out forms hidden within the rectangular block of a brick not normally envisioned by most – perfectly formed spheres as if moulded using wet clay, the spheres cut neatly into halves; bricks sculpted with jagged edges or serrations like that of a saw, an object you expect would be made out of metal; or the splintered edges of a piece of wood snapped by force – but not brick.
Madan Lal responds
Artist’s Narration – 2003 Lucknow – a site specific work titled “River”
In 2003, I was invited by the Faculty of Fine Arts, Lucknow University, for a lecture and demonstration on Installation Art. I created a site-specific installation with bricks near the Gomati River that flows by the university campus. I used about 3000 bricks to create the work. “The ‘River’ first comes in my compositions in 1997.”
The “River” is 25 x 3 x 2 Ft., long and follows the curves of the flow of a river with steps. Lucknow 2003
Critical Appraisal of the 2003 Lucknow work titled “River” – Archana
The Lucknow work titled “River” came 16 years later, although he had worked with the concept of the river in 1997. The Lucknow work has the characteristic beauty of most of Madan Lal’s works. The “River” is not so much a work of sculpture but a site-specific mini-work of architecture using bricks as bricks in their original form.
Once again, I would use one of Madan Lal’s own terms in Hindi “arthavyavastha” and the various synonyms of the term in English – economy, processes of production, distribution, trade, social structuresetc., to describe the “River.”
The “River” 2003, gives artistic expression to the meandering form of the flow of a river with banks on either side with steps and varying levels of structure in the horizontal form of the work.
All major civilizations grew and flourished in the vicinity of a flowing body of water. In making the work (the “River”) the artist had to enlist the help and assistance of casual workers and tradespeople, which is a positive contribution to society in the name of art.
Madan Lal responds
Artist’s Narration – 2005 Taipei – with a description on the importance of “Well” as a subject in his art
Soon I had a chance to participate in the ‘Third Asia Pacific Arts Forum- Disguise & Identity’ at the Taipei National University of Fine Arts, Taiwan.
I used bricks to create a circular wall with a brick floor to create a “Well” of 4 meters in diameter. The brick floor followed a design pattern of concentric circles with a few bricks carved in abstract flower forms placed upright on the floor at strategic places. The brick wall of the well and the floor were held together and sealed with mortar so as to hold water.
As a child, I remember watching a well being dug near my village. I was surprised and fascinated to see a sudden appearance of water after the well had been dug to a certain depth. Many questions came to my mind: why does the water level in the well not decrease or why doesn’t the well start overflowing with water?
Watching my shadow in the well and throwing pebbles into the still water and listening to the gentle ‘plop’ sound and an echo that soon followed and observing the ripples being created gave me tremendous joy.
In time, I also noticed that the well made of bricks and cement developed some fissures and after a few years a Peepal tree and saplings of other trees took root within the structure of the walls of the well.
Gradually there grew branches and leaves that covered the inside of the well, their ever changing forms being reflected in the water of the well. Nature took over technology and created unexpected imagery that can be seen in my work in different forms and materials and at different stages of my artistic development.
Critical Appraisal of the Taiwan work – Archana
The Taipei “Well” of 2005 is again a site-specific work like the work “River,” more in the realm of public works, as in the case of a well built for communal use, rather than a work of sculpture. (In any case, the work in its totality is not intended to be a work of sculpture , still….). The small, almost unnoticeable forms of buds and flowers placed strategically on the floor of the well are perhaps the actual artworks, these forms of nature (replete in the artist’s works) made the Well their home – harking back to his memory of the well built in the village that he witnessed as a child.
The “Well” is impressive as a structure and is visually engaging.
Below are two murals that were not discussed in the exchanges
Varanasi: Bricks 2018 – A mural for the exterior wall of Ram Chhatpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi, India
Critical Appraisal of the 2018 Varanasi brick mural – Archana
In the Varanasi mural “Bricks 2018” above each individual brick may be seen as an artwork that mimics everyday bricks used for industrial purposes. By embossing his name in the dip within the brick (the technical term for the dip is “frog” ) the artist is making a daring attempt at appropriation of a building material that has a history of thousands of years and which has been universally used by peoples of ancient civilizations onwards until the present day.
In the mural, the placement of the bricks is in the form of a mandala, which in itself is not an original idea. However, the fact that the bricks are of different sizes and thicknesses, introduces an element of surprise – since the expectation is that bricks being a mass produced product would be of the same size – lending the composition a quiet, subtle element of artistic innovation.
Varanasi: Bricks Blossoms 2021 – a mural for the exterior wall of Ram Chhatpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi, India
Critical appraisal of the Varanasi mural Brick Blossoms 2021 – Archana
The above work of 2021, titled “Brick Blossoms,” a mural is composed of individually carved bricks, the carved forms are unique to each brick – no repetition. The arrangement is again reminiscent of a mandala, with an ever so slight asymmetry that can be described using just one word “beautiful.”
In the mural, the sculpted bricks gradually diminish in size as they extend outwards in larger circles from their central point. The center of the brick composition contains just two bricks as if there is an inherent duality within what is seen from afar as a unified whole in its never ending circularity.
The Dvaita, is the Advaita, but in fact it is Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita that we can see in the mural. (This is a philosophical construct of the Vedanta school of thought in Hinduism.)
The attention to detail, the complex calculations required to show the gradual decrease in the sizes of the bricks as they spread outwards in the composition are aspects of the mural that a viewer may not immediately grasp at first sight.
The Varanasi mural “Brick Blossoms” is best described in the artist’s own words. I would use some of the other terms from his statement on bricks in Hindi quoted above where, in addition to “vishamta”and “khurdurapan“ he uses the terms: “saadgi,” “tapasya,” “vinamrata,” “antarangata,” “prakrutik vastuon aur prakriyaon ki sundarata,” – i.e. simplicity, dedication, humility, intimacy, encompassing the beauty of natural objects and processes, respectively.”
Feedback from Madan Lal Gupta on the Project – extracts
* “I am learning and seeing many things in my art and life through your perception of my work…which is deep and insightful”
*“..through these exchanges I am able to look at my life and my philosophy of art from various angles and I have come to realize that life and art are one and the same….”
*“….I have come to understand the value of proper documentation of art and the necessity to create a visual chronology of my work for future reference so the many interrelationships in my art become evident…..I realized this when you brought this aspect of art practice to my notice.. in our exchanges”
* “….these interactions guide me forward in my art and craft creations..”