DHRUVA MISTRY

Sculpture and Drawings (1981-1985),
introduced by William Feaver
and essay by Sheena Wagstaff,
Kettle's Yard Gallery,
University of Cambridge(32 pages)

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The exhibition of sculptures and drawings by Dhruva Mistry, which this publication accompanies has been organised to mark the end of his year as Artist in Residence at Churchill College and Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. Dhruva Mistry had only been in Great Britain for three years before coming to Cambridge and the main body of the work in the exhibition has been made during this last year. We are particularly grateful to the Master and Fellows of Churchill College for participating in the residency and, together with the Arts Council, for making it possible. Dhruva Mistry is the sixth Artist in Residence at Kettle's Yard and a Cambridge College, and as with his predecessors it has allowed him a year, free of other commitments, in which to concentrate on his work. It is most rewarding to see once again this opportunity leading to such fine results.

Many people have helped with the Organisation of this exhibition and the production of the publication. Particular thanks must go to Sheena Wagstaff for her essay and to William Feaver for his introduction. Dhruva Mistry's work assumes a very individual place within contemporary sculpture. He draws on a wide range of cultural and historical sources, and a depth of facility to produce works of almost voluptuous intensity and command. Both author's explore the complexity of the work with careful understanding. The publication itself has been funded through the generosity of the Henry Moore Foundation, for which we are most grateful. A final word must go to the artist himself, who has given much time and enthusiasm throughout the year to the whole project.

Hilary Gresty

Curator, Kettle's Yard


Introduction
-William Feaver

There on his lawn in a glade of saplings, beside the track where a miniature railway ran last summer during Liverpool's International Garden Festival, Sitting Bufl sniffs the air. This Nandi - Shiva's Nandi - resting among man-made hills is Dhruva Mistry's largest sculpture so far. Plump and bold, modelled in concrete and painted a cheery red, he keeps watch over a dismantled site.
Most of the Festival sculpture - it ranged from Henry Moore's Three Piece Reclining Figure, Draped to works by Mistry's contemporaries at the Royal College of Art - was cleared away a year ago but the bull is to remain, the centrepiece of a redevelopment. The paint is already scuffed in places where children have groped for footholds.


Besides being Nandi awaiting Shiva's coming to Merseyside, Sitting But challenges Henry Moore's Sheep Piece (and for that matter Landseer's lions in Trafalgar Square) and rivals Waterhouse Hawkins' prehistoric monsters at Crystal Palace, inside one of which a full-scale dinner was held in 1854. Well aware of precedents, Mistry left a table and chair inside his bull, swallowed whole.

He made three bulls for Liverpool in 1983-4. The smallest, a daisy-patterned mascot maquette was carved in chalk. The next was a companionable red bull in concrete, half lifesize, for the 7th Peter Moores Exhibition. Dwarfing these the huge Sitting Bu# is beyond the pale, in Henry Moore terms, because of the outlandish colour. Peach red against the grass, more startling than reassuring, this one is the brightest of the species.
Before the paint went on Sitting Bufl was a plain cement grey matching the condemned blocks of flats in the Dingle, the other side of the perimeter fence. Creature was chill before she gained her gold markings and flesh tones. The Reguarding Guardians were dead white. In that state they could have been mistaken for works in patent Coade Stone, examples of the so-called Hindu-Egyptian taste of the 1800's, commissioned perhaps by Thomas Hope for his neoclassical retreat
Deepdene. Colour brought them into the land of the living.

One of Ian Hamilton Finlay's battle-cries echoes here: 'Fewer Sculptures! More Statues!' Sculpture is sculpture, an end in itself. Statues stand for values and beliefs. Statues signify. Originally, before the paint wore off and Lord Elgin removed his shipload of fragments for the aesthetically aware and the classically educated to savour in the British Museum, the Parthenon pediments outlined the birth of Athena and the contest between Athena and Poseidon in full colour. It's arguable that as long as the paint lasted Athens thrived and Athena remained a living legend.
In Liverpool, London or Cambridge Dhruva Mistry's figures are thousands of miles from base. This may suggest that their impact stems from their foreignness, that they are half-caste art, like chinoiserie. Certainly they take unfamiliar themes and images for granted. The Little Bird, the Cheetah (Tipu), the hippogriffs look both self-possessed and exotic. Those who know little or nothing about contemporary Indian art may suspect that Mistry is one among many working in an essentially traditional manner.

This is not so, for while there is plenty of Tantric Internationalism in India, pedestrian portrait statuary, elaborate metalwork and academic craftsmanship, Mistry's alertness and sureness of touch set him apart. He uses classical Indian sculpture; he has skills more common in India than in the West but he also has an opportunism worthy of Picasso. What he says about Werner Herzog and his worldwide yet Germanic vision applies to himself as well: 'That fellow can digest anything'.

Parts of the University of Baroda could be the University of North Staffs on a hot day. The Faculty of Sculpture houses the sort of student exercises seen everywhere, from Shanghai to San Francisco. The Baroda Museum, founded in the 1900's by an enlightened Maharaja, contains, besides a fine collection of Indian painting and sculpture, a selection of Western works of art ranging from School of Titian to 'Constable'and Glyn Philpot and W.P. Frith's The Race for Wealth, a picture-story of mid-Victorian worldly corruption in four episodes.
As a student Dhruva Mistry couldn't fail to notice the 'Diana' beside the bandstand in the park, on the way to Baroda Zoo. He studied the Elgin Marbles and the works of Michelangelo in casts and photographs. He met John Davies and was, for a while, heavily influenced by his masked male figures. The hybrids that resulted may have been imperfect assimilations but they had the basic quality, the absolute control of material and form that has since developed so dramatically. Tipu, made in 1982, in his first year at the Royal College, is as factual as it is symbolic (the image of a dream), tensed and waiting.

There is a shop in Baroda, the Mandavi bazaar, where enamelled eyes can be bought. They come in many sizes, from little more than pink-rimmed black spots to enormous stares. Pressed into the faces of clay figures they command instant attention. The same eyes give expression to Dhruva Mistry's Guardians, making them engage the onlooker, as statues should.These images belong to a world of transformations where the winged become the hoofed and dub beasts assume fabulous powers. They come not just from mythology (and the sculpture galleries of the British Museum) but from the streets and fields of India where cows walk free and man has no unique or privileged status beyond being recognised as one of the cleverest and most destructive species. Animals that look you in the eye, that display themselves as equals are rare these days in the art of the industrialised and sentimentalised West.

That is why Nandi on Merseyside and Little Bird, sighted in the gardens of Newnham, are more than mythological or supernatural. They have nothing in common with the titchy naturalism of Britains Ltd farmyard animals, for their characteristics are true to life. Note the spread of the claws, the set of the shoulders, the differences between muzzles and the variety of hindquarters. Dhruva Mistry's brilliance lies in his matter of fact treatment of extraordinary attributes. In his hands sculpture functions once again as the art of the actual.

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