Duologue with a young sculptor with illustrated footnotes
Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai
Jehangir Art Gallery , Mumbai
Lalit Kala Galleries, Rabindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi
What is sculpture and how do you relate to it?
I grew up seeing rural and industrial development in my area. I was born and brought up in a village in post independent Gujarat . There was little to match picture postcard views, colorful traditions or art and craft. Charotar as a region is progressive, enterprising, green and fertile. By playing with natural and found objects I made toys, made drawing and painted. Art was a scant subject and it meant learning through trial and error in vernacular schools. My curiosities and queries had to wait until I went to an art school. I was keen to learn and assess myself. I was lucky to have met an impartial mentor who worked to extend levels of my awareness at the art school. At the end of my post graduation in 1981, it was time to forge my goal with the code of ethics to begin a critical practice. Routine aspirations of an artist involved learning to work from within the culture. I could not accept ‘art' as a religion. I had brooded over theory and practice of art and traditions, especially Indian revivalism, modern and contemporary art. Without getting lost in social and historical detail, I was working with materials by actualizing visual and formal points of departure to examine form and content from different mental points of views. My experience was getting refined away by self awareness that led to explore my immediate circumstances. At 23, I felt as free as Michelangelo to tackle whatever I liked. I was interested in positivist aspects of traditions to communicate knowledge and feeling. Beyond definite tasks, there are things to learn from to comprehend instinct and aptitude. Still, this leaves me with the host of problems that are uniquely and diversely displaced in my pursuit.
I realize that sculpture is a practical and scientific demonstration of physical systems to create and invent forms. Sculpture displays the ageless spirit of its culture by proving an unbroken continuity of the power of its philosophy and literature in the living civilization of India . The device of an image as a psychological apparatus has served to call up aspects of reverence. Performance of the sculpted image remains as important as its function. The qualities of the form are determined by relation between the beholder and the object. Sculpture is a matter of form rather than style. It is important to go beyond repetitions of ‘revolutions' to catch a glimpse into the hidden depth of the furnace like interior that moves man and the invisible slow motion of his faith. Artistic discoveries define shedding of parasitic attitude and scavenging. By reflecting upon the living presence, I meditate the form. 1 It is a matter of discovering a new set of laws to express an understanding of technical knowledge of artistic skill and conventions to explore subtleties of my expectations. It is an individual dialogue between the past reverberation, a novel hypothesis and its repercussions. Creative wisdom does not affect the non utilitarian nature of forms. Art allows discovering of memory and self knowledge to recover one's true life and self. It is the sublime realization of form that surpasses the winds of passing fads and furies of ‘time'. 2,a,b
How do you feel about working in India again after a gap of almost two decades?
While choosing sculpture in 1976, few painting friends had forewarned me about the difficulties of ‘space' and survival through one's work. I had set out to test myself against my notion of the world. My soul commitment was crucial for the handful of galleries and scant interest in the subject. In 1979-1981, my graduation work had created some excitement. Curiosity, desire and a British Council Scholarship took me to London in 1981. I was well aware of my commitment since I had gone to study for a year. Coming from a modest and non-anglophile background, it was an opportunity to experience an alien culture. I had neither contemplated migration nor success. I was keen to see myself far away from my world. Incidentally, at the end of my study at the Royal College of Art in 1983, there was discernible interest in my work. It was about time to put into practice my matter-of-fact ideas about art. I was self employed till 1997, before resuming my work in Vadodara .
For some years, the better known deans, professors and artist teachers of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda seemed keen for me to join the Faculty. In May 1999 the M.S. University of Baroda appointed me as Professor of Sculpture, Head of the Department and soon Dean of Faculty. After three years, I could ascertain that the past set up offered little scope. Even the authorities wouldn't care for the future of a professional stream or in maintaining the minimum standards of Higher Education. I couldn't fancy ‘passing time' for an unseemly ‘passion for teaching'. Within a few months I quit the job.
Even in the era of growing patriotism and national ambition, there is a sense of an overall state of disarray. Crisis of ideology can subvert reason and polarize people against the ageless spirit of the culture. At the end of the millennium, public institutions too, reveal a disheartening lack of appraisal of art. Paradoxically, the fast moving culture of imports and imitation offers possibilities of all ages. The enigma of a simmering civilization, pride, prejudice, diversity and synthesis appear willing to consume anything and everything. Some are still lured by the lost term of avant garde and toil to align themselves with the shades of ‘arrival'. Many relish the spell of an emerging art market and ecology of demand when some seem foxed by fakes. After hiatus of two decades, I feel at home and pursue my slow art in the quiet light of day beyond enticements of the large cities.
Your work is comprised of a variety of media like drawing, painting, printmaking, photography and digital imaging. How does your work cross mediums, materials and personal expression to enter the arena of large public projects?
Art as a creative activity postulates allusion of reality to offer delight. 3 Drawing, as a means of expression is primeval to fathom the iceberg of my investigative urge. 3a The tone of observation matters much more than color. 4 I pull close to the loft of my ideas to draw and discover the form in space. 5 It is an ear for the yearning of my creative conscience to bring in a better and deeper experienced relationship with the world. 6 My engagement with form is open to discover visual and the metaphorical being of my object. 6a I know that comprehension of the ‘subject' may be in direct contradiction to the physical limits of the visual object and that may confound visual expectations at a crucial point. As an artist, I am learning to get to the loft of my imagination to discover the falseness of treasured truth.
Popular cultures give rise to endless stories. I prefer to traverse the common man and mass media to avoid enticing the naiveté of people. Unlike wall-based work meant to be viewed within the limits of its two dimensions, sculpture extends itself into actual space to proclaim its presence through a set of spatial and tactile relationships. It occupies the same floor shared by the viewer. 7 Unequivocal transformation of the form creates illusion of time and place for a tangible participation. Sculpture as a metaphor, is re-living of forms illuminated by the inner light to accommodate outer shadows. 8 It is an image and a balance of the personal to enhance its appreciation. Success of the work is relative to my sublime realization of the form in the public domain to endure time . 8a Commissions are meant to represent feelings to ‘affect' and move the spectator rather than capturing of public emotions.
How do you explain the marked changes in your approach to forms?
Seeing in the round has captivated my attention since childhood. As an understanding, it is making of the form in space. 9 From 1974 onwards, I worked with materials to find the image of man that speaks in silence. 10 My work led to an array of formal and material variables, cuboids like Man on Chair and Man on Cube. Then, till 1981 , I made Heads, Busts 11 and a series of life size figures in fiberglass called Kneeling Man, Sitting Man, Walking Man and Man with Dog . These works allowed me to free myself from the constraints of traditional stone, wood, metal casting and scrap metal and eliminated the burden of the pedestal . Sculpture is a formal entity that reveals the beauty of form deified beyond the limitations of one's culture.
From 1981-1983, my Sleeping Man, Tipu, Woman, and Creature , 12 later on 1983-1985 Sitting Bull , 12a Little Bird and a set of Reguarding Guardians 12b display a frontal character of forms. My Indian ideas were enlivened by what I saw and liked from the great art treasures in London and Europe . I began to infuse a sense of restrained movement as well as use of stronger hues. From 1986 onwards, the object in space was becoming more convincing. The elusive nature of capturing concrete-reveries creates distance of time and space between the maker as facilitator and maker as spectator. While aiming for the summit of my visual unity, I discover possibilities of creative idiosyncrasies. In 1987, I began to look into the ‘object' as my ‘subject'. Early ideas led to studies of The Object-I and II, 13 Diagram of an Object , 1988 13a,b,c and a series of Spatial Diagrams 14 , from 1988-1995. There was a series of Dialectal Images , 15,a set of Delight of the Reason I-VI 15b and Looking Around 20 in direct bronze from 1989-1995. My interest in economy of materials and architecture of the form seem to create visual contradictions and formal differences. I have an open approach to work with requisite skepticism in order to learn from surprises that sustain my curiosity. From 1997-2001, I worked upon a series of ALoC: The Object in Stainless Steel. The skeletal structure of the forms was aimed at the ‘Actual Line of Control' and alok as perception of the material divides about the human conflicts.
By late 2003, I began to work upon the series of Table Pieces by seeking to strike a subtle balance between what might seem to be too obvious and what might seem to be too difficult. My creative allusions remain inseparable due to my interest in the use of different materials. Marked changes in the forms are part of my clarity to obtain the necessary quality. My work enriches my interest, aptitude, experience and creative instinct.
How did you come across the idea for the Table Pieces and working with direct wax?
Lately, working from the desk in particular captured my attention. 16 The resultant work, as objects of contemplation, led to a metaphorical beginning. Unlike Brancusi 's Table of Silence of 1937 these works deal with frailties of perception. 17 I recall seeing an exhibition of Table Sculptures of 1969-1970 by Anthony Caro in 1988. 18 While working with materials, I feel closer to the most tangible dreams to be actualized. The awakening of imagination seeks unity of forms through a diversity of approaches. My empirical openings await trekking through the shadow of sculptural desires. Limitations of working with materials, processes and forms add a particular signification to my visual intentions.
I begin to work in the form of a study until the object is revealed upon my turntable. Possibilities of scale and materials remain secondary for the quality of the form unless intended. 19 By using direct wax, in the series of Dialectal Images of 1989-90, I had pushed aside a certain realism of my earlier work to explore dialectics of form arising from an unsatisfactory nature of visual perception, feeling and experience. The sublime can be reached through the presentation of the unpresentable to find an occult nature of form. The form of the work deduces a different kind of truth to construct a new palpability before the eyes. The series of Dialectal Images: Delight of the Reason , 1992, dwell upon dominant feelings arising from different emotional states. In 1995, I worked upon a set of direct bronze studies of Looking Around 20 to find freedom of lightness of space with the material. Then, I worked with a silversmith to discover preciousness of monumentality in tiny sterling silver castings. 21
From time to time, I have worked with wax for direct bronze as an inter-subjective delight of response to communicate my sculptural enthusiasm. 22 Each piece is a compliment as well as deviation within the premise of conception of a formal structure to explore the untrodden realm of experience. 23,a,b Dreaming consciousness of my vision tempts me to make one, 23c another, third and more until I become aware of formal limitations. A sense of time as the fourth coordinate can be infused through the immanence of perceived movement in space. 24 The process of making a series of works ushers upon discovering a complementary set of ideas 25 to reveal the mode of perception. 25a It is one of the most direct and ancient methods of metal casting. 25b A classical freshness of beauty along with a sense of permanence can be achieved by bronze as one of the most malleable of metals. 26 Apart from the directness of the artist's touch it offers a unique freedom of thinking of sculptural planes in space. 27
Each piece, as composition and 3D still life, draws the viewer to an array of interesting objects; geometrical and organic shapes apart from familiar forms, what was your intention when you composed them?
In sculpture, movement of the form can be suggested, imagined or actual; it can be frozen to emphasize a sense of the fourth coordinate as time. 28 I perceive feeling and form, word and meaning; the given and the imagined. 29 My focus upon persistent feelings leads to reveal a particular feeling as I conceive an order that transforms incessant changes of tides and ebbs of fleeting moments. 30 The work contains concomitant realities of ideas and images reflecting upon the familiar in forms and objects. 31 Unlike still lifes, the Table Pieces reveal an imaginary world. Despite required modesty of scale, a particular sense of space and movement that they encapsulate remains central to the eye. Each piece is a unique configuration of an elemental succession of reveries and queries to supplement my visual consciousness. 32 Our organism seems so attuned to a three-dimensional world that it becomes all alluring to discover and decode the third dimension. One can't forget that reality and pace of progress can be a threat to one's environment polarizing aspirations. Ever increasing religious and cultural strife causes crises of individual freedom and identity. The tide of development may thwart individual peace of mind and unnerve as well as alienate people. In the moment of germinal engagement, I feel closer to the metaphysical threshold of a novel dimension. 33 The materials and process of work reveal a focal unity of image to delineate pleasure, pain as well as fear of the unknown. 34 The Table Pieces evoke a pedagogical journey to reminisce about remains of my petrified dreams. 35 Subtle layers of oxidization forming a natural crust of color heighten the beauty of the work. Transformed by the nature of bronze, patina adds to the quality of its substance.
Despite a comparative smallness of size, there is a sense of monumentality that pulls the viewer into its arena as your work creates its own sense of atmosphere which allows the viewer to participate in a way similar to ‘installation' art. How do you describe such dynamic tension in this series of table sculptures?
The scope of sculpture offers a meta-content of my environment. Having worked with large public installations, the scale of Table Pieces offers a sense of contemplation where each piece imbibes its moment and monumentality. 36 A four-legged creature as an object is the leitmotif of the work, whose function is to reveal the nature of my vision. Spatial intimacy and sense of touch remain close to the eyes and well within the reach of hands. Like a book, it is humility of reading that entails a rapport with its content. Within the bounds of fingers, eyes and mind, panorama of space reveals freshness of contradiction of nature and perception. 37 The making of Table Pieces was like reading an engaging book in the moments of peace. Giorgio de Chirico 's paintings capture time and space that offer usefulness of irrational principles of composition, juxtaposition, and creation of a parallel world with a lure for melancholy. 38 Nonetheless, atrocities of our time are revealed through the limitation of space leading to the tensions of time. It is an inescapable reality of modern life that seeks to claim one's own environment. Like metaphysical musings, a stage for cognition of the work is set to offer space with its own air. Vibrancy of movement of the corporeal life of the object is revealed by fullness of the surrounding objects. The variational quality of the image set its context. Like drawing in space with the fourth dimension of time, the images are both symbolic and representational. 39 Like nature, one's response to sculpture needs to take immediate root without conferring to the past or other images. To discover the object, I participate with sonority of time to express tonality of space . In other words, from the threshold of my well-spring of delight, I feel closer to an echo from afar :
Bird and boat, sword and seed, bounds of the Mount,
Chess of course, with dummies, Kings and Queens and horses on wings,
Climb of books, calling of Pyramids, recall the glass and brook.
Desires from the moon, with coos and woes, flung far into the gasp of skies,
Mystic fetus, fabulous fruits, the foibles of fables with tales and feats,
Voice of the wind, feeling the mist, large fins glide through the sea.
The blazing sun, burning first, wells and vessels of an earthly thirst,
Ebb of time, wheeling pebbles, shells, snakes and sputtering pools,
Drools and drizzle; frozen drips, spirals of spouts and spins.
Temples of tears and ladders of fears touch and stoke the sky,
Knives, claws and arms to feel the flesh and till the farms,
The Trojan height, quiet mime of the unicorn flights,
Interrupting rituals of each day, and every night,
Trace of trust, color of musk,
Lurking lava, brazen delight,
Almighty fights, the world of bubbling rites,
Wings of dreams, an echo from afar,
Washed ashore, through magic doors.
Further Reading :
Dhruva Mistry, Bronzes 1985-1990, introduced by Andrew Wilson, Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London ,1990
Dhruva Mistry, Asian Artist Today: Fukuoka Annual VII, introduced by Ushiroshoji Masahiro and essay by Lynne Green, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, 1994
Dhruva Mistry, Work1990-1995, introduced by David Cohen, Anthony Wilkinson Fine Art, London , 1995
Bronze, Contemporary British Sculpture Holland Park, a Millennium exhibition, compiled by Ann Elliott and essay by Nobert Lynton and Louise Vaughan, Published by Royal Borough of Kensington And Chelsea Libraries and Art Service Central Library, London, 2000.