Internationally acclaimed artist Subodh Gupta’s new solo show is called Oil on Canvas, but it will feature only new sculptures. The title, he explains, comes from one of the works on display. Besides stainless steel, his preferred medium, Gupta has used bronze, brass, marble and wood to make what he calls “minimalist” and “conceptual” works. The show, he promises, is a departure for him. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Departures: Gupta (left) says he is fascinated by marble as a medium; and an untitled bronze sculpture from the show. Courtesy Nature Morte
What determines your choice of medium for sculptures?
Steel is a part of my life; it is my signature. But I am fascinated by other mediums too (such as) marble. It’s like watercolour—every artist finds it beautiful and dreams of drawing in it, even if he can’t really draw. And now every middle-class Indian home has marble. That attracted me too. No matter what I do, I have to connect with the people.
Why have you been partial to stainless steel?
I like working in it. I love utensils and I still have a long way to go. It is a discovery each time I do something with it.
Over the years you have continued to use your signature motif of pots and pans, even if the subject does not have an Indian context.
It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It is not necessary for it to be Indian. But utensils are always related to food and food is related to human life. If you have food on plate, you have life. And if you don’t, you don’t have life. Now even the poor have stainless steel utensils but it is not necessary that they have food.
How important is it for you to retain your Indian roots in your art?
I live in this country and I have to react to my own life and environment. Artists react to their own culture and their own lives. By speaking the language of art, you can make anything. And it will fit anywhere. The subject doesn’t have to be American or Indian. When the (American artist) Jasper Johns drew the American flag no one asked him why. American pop art had Coca-Cola, ice cream and Marilyn Monroe—all very American symbols.
Can you compare the response your work gets by Indian and international viewers?
Indian viewer will no doubt understand my work much more easily, although ironically, it was international viewers who first gave me recognition.
What about showing in Indian galleries versus showing in foreign galleries?
Every gallery has a different audience. But there is a big difference between India and the West—in London at the Hauser and Wirth gallery there were 200 visitors everyday. Here you’ll get maybe 10 people coming for a show after the opening day. When it comes to numbers, there is no comparison—art lovers here are much fewer than in the West.
Does that bother you?
Our job is to make more interesting art so that more people will come. (We should give) whoever loves art, something to see.
Should art have a social message?
Not necessarily. But 99% of good art has something strong to say. It speaks its own language, but it is not necessarily social—it could be something absurd too. The beauty of art is that you are not able to pinpoint things. It is not an essay that can be read word by word. People come and make their own meaning.
Oil on Canvas will be on display at Gallery Nature Morte, A1, Neeti Bagh, New Delhi. For details, log on to www.naturemorte.com