Space, sensibility and a canvas
A retrospective of S.G. Vasudev's copper works opened at Mumbai's Jehangir Art Gallery on February 11, after being on show in Bangalore. As `Copper Extracts: Soliloquies in Sheet Metal' testifies, he continues to carry forward his creativity through the space of Indian mythologies, legends, poetry and folklore, says ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT.
COPPER EXTRACTS: SOLILOQUIES IN SHEET-METAL
"Elephant and Rider", 1999 _ copper lends itself well to large spaces.
THE discourse on "Indianness" instigated by K.C.S. Paniker in the decade of the 1960s was to precipitate in the configuration of the Madras Art Movement marking vibrant historic space within the national milieu. S. Dhanapal, L. Munuswamy, A.P. Santharaj and other senior members, and alumnus like Redappa Naidu supported Paniker in his efforts. The presence of a band of young, intelligent, dedicated and talented students together with teachers formed the core group, discussing, debating, questioning, and arguing the merits, and demerits, such a move engendered. Among them was young Vasudev who was drawn into this vortex that centered on "Indianness". His close association with theatre in the persona of Girish Karnad and with literature through Kannada poets A.K. Ramanujan and D.R. Bendre was to prove inspiring. His "indigenous" ideology was dictated from literary sources.
The articulation of his idiomatic vocabulary was more a cerebration based on the excitement and challenges of poetry, folklore and mythology rather than on reinventing borrowings from a vernacular repertoire. A prolific artist, Vasudev, who was also a founder member of the Cholamandal Artist Village, Chennai, has today a prodigious output, habituated by his exploratory bent of mind that allows him to negotiate various materials, particularly, since Paniker had levelled the hierarchy between arts and crafts.
In college it was Mr. Kuppuswamy, a hereditary metal craftsman, who taught young Vasudev the rudiments of working the metal. This interest was carried over to Cholamandal, where, in close collaboration with his wife, he engaged in exploring traditional metal craft practice. His modern sensibility and experiences interacted with culture to create a meaningful, and symbiotic, relationship. This created a trajectory in creative metal making, to become one element in a larger programme of Vasudev's penchant for varied craft processes.
A retrospective of his copper works titled "Copper Extracts: Soliloquies in Sheet Metal" opened in Mumbai at the Jehangir Art Gallery on February 11 after being on show at Bangalore. Aptly titled "Soliloquies", Vasudev has created a dialogue with "self" and "experiences" moving fluidly between various themes developed from a mythological motif of "Vriksha" and "Maithuna" to his lived experiences in terms of "Humanscapes", "Earthscapes", "Theatre of Life" to the now emerging motif of "Surya".
These iconographies dictate the semantics of his copper extracts and moderate to become the lexicon of his visual language. His various motifs are either freely developed in isolation, or effectively amalgamated or juxtaposed to create dynamic and vibrant compositions. This is to imply that a work though titled "Maithuna" (1993), is a motif combined with "Vriksha". This freeplay of subjects has been conditioned by his internalisation through years of experimenting with them. From the mid-1970s, Vasudev has been working with metal, which, initially, were small formats. But gradually, he has moved on boldly, to create larger pieces in the 1980s and the 1990s.
In this revisitation, Vasudev, as a contemporary "master craftsman", conceptualises the composition through the process of drawings and sketches and transfers it on the copper sheet with the aid of metal tools.
Chandran who has become an extension of Vasudev's mental process, aids him in his endeavours. And this collaborative effort allows the artist to direct his assistant who carries out the physical process while the signature of individuation and conceptualisation remains with Vasudev who, vehemently emphasises that he visualises every texture and stroke. The intricacies of the process of creation in this medium are not only challenging and exciting but laborious as well, conveyed explicitly by the metal "canvases". Serving as support to work the relief is the lacquer bed six inches deep, in which the copper sheet is embedded.
Through pounding, areas predetermined for relief are worked. This is followed by the creation of myriad textures calculated to fine precision by Vasudev.
Some of these approximate perfect round beads, creating scintillating effects in deflecting light rays. When the reverse side is worked to completion, the lacquer is heated and the metal sheet separated and thoroughly cleaned and work begins on the front. Vasudev mediates through his deeply thought out textures to mark the high points of his compositions; and it is the entire gamut that makes his creation versatile. The material and technique heighten the aesthetics of design and composition. The textural richness inscribes the powerful forms, exuding an aura of vibrancy and amplifies the subtle contrasts played out between the smoothness and roughness of the metal. The burnished metal, glints and throws off light a light that is muted, tempered or jewel-like. The sensuousness of the metal is reinforced and enhanced by his decorative curvilinear line that creates a virtuoso effect of dramatic splendour.
"Theatre of Life", 2002 _ Vasudev revels in the plushness of copper.
Vasudev's works of the mid-1970s and early 1980s are seemingly an extension of his paintings, marked by free-floating forms interspersed with the Kannada script ("Tree of Life", 1985). He works through them in the 1990s; forms that are simplified and reductive, including the script that have been minimised for required effects. As the copper "canvases" testify, Vasudev continues to carry forward his creativity through the space of Indian mythologies, legends, poetry and folklore.
The emotive metaphors that remain ubiquitous in his works today are the "Mithunas" and the "Vriksha". The concept of "Mithuna" is very Indian. It enacts the mysteries of creation, a powerful and dynamic aspect of life itself. In employing it, Vasudev explains, "It is not just an act of love between man and woman. It is a vast concept of love between all forms between the planets and the earth, between the mountains and the sea, the trees and the birds, reptiles and animals". The idea of "Kalpa Vriksha" on the other hand, derived from the poetry of Bendre, remains a dominant symbol, image and metaphor for fecundity, growth, life and death. And after years of exploring this narrative, it operates effortlessly for him, grounded as he is in the realm of nature, of cultural history and unconscious thought. He enjoys this terrain, as myths are public and communicable, offering him an opportunity to express subliminal mental patterns that come close to the compulsive drives of the unconscious.
Vasudev's works optimise his attitude, and interpretation of life lived at every level. This partially explains the material dimension of his iconography, rooted in the physical world of nature around him. He is convinced that nature is perfectly realised in its form. But what is crucial is to capture the intangibility of its power. And in seeking to materialise the noumen of power, Vasudev mediates through motifs derived from poetry and mythology. The metaphorical dialogue initiated by the artist in "Earthscapes", "Humanscapes" and "Theatre of Life" have been timely interventions, eventually enabling the precipitation of his philosophy in visual language and testifying to his communication of feelings.
Vasudev's return to Bangalore in the early 1990s resulted in the creation of "Earthscapes" and "Theatre of Life" when he responded to life around by active involvement with environmental activists and internalising the notion of a public theatre when groups of people surrendered to the small screen (television) for evening entertainment.
Vasudev has worked on wide-ranging themes to sublimate his imaginative configuration of mythical and everyday observed forms.
And his "Copper Extracts" marks another tract in his collaborative craft process after his experiences with silk tapestries.
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