ALWAR BALASUBRAMANIAM, 36
It is difficult to get Alwar Balasubramaniam to talk about his art. Questions beg questions. “Can I take pictures of the works I am making and send you the images?” After they have been sent, he asks, “They are made of fibreglass, but don’t you think the milky white gives them a feel of snow?” The reclusive artist, whose solo show recently opened at New York’s Talwar Gallery, spends most of his time in India at his studio in Bangalore, where he recently moved from his hometown, Chennai.
Many of the works that are being shown at his New York show can be traced to his self-imposed exile in a small village in the Austrian Alps last year. “I wanted to see what came out of it. The only material I had to make art out of were the simplest things available at the local stationery shop.” It was snowing outside, and he was inspired to create his white-upon-white graded compositions of human figures and limbs.
After his last solo show at the same gallery in New York in 2006, The New York Times gave him a superfluous review: “Mr Balasubramaniam, self-taught as a sculptor, is young, savvy and in the middle of a spurt of growth. It could take him anywhere, but there’s already a lot here.”
The best examples of Balasubramaniam’s technical finesse and his sparse visual idiom are his unusual prints that have a subtle shine rendered by metal dust, and his treatment of the gallery space as a ductile and pliable medium—legs and hands emerge out of one side of a gallery wall while the rest of the figure appears from the other side of the same wall.
Born on the outskirts of Chennai, Balasubramaniam was not accepted at the city’s Government Arts College despite repeated attempts. Finally, he did enrol there for a degree in fine art. “I would visit a public library in Chennai and, for hours, look at paintings made by European and American artists. I don’t really have any role models in India,” he says.
Alwar Balasubramaniam is working on a sculpture with white fibreglass
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it is difficult to pigeonhole Balasubramaniam’s works to a single school, aesthetic or medium. But his own rationale for the diversity in his work: “I like to be called a person who creates art, and not merely a painter, a printmaker or a sculptor.” Since his first solo show in 1998, his works have travelled to different Indian cities, Spain, Korea, Japan, Germany, France and Singapore.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE:
“Since the mid-1990s, he has stayed focused on his very arduous and detailed technique. You can see the same kind of work perfecting with time, although that means he is not a prolific artist. But that’s also one of the reasons his works are sought after.”
Minal Vazirani, co-owner and director, Saffronart
In the last two years, Balasubramaniam has had solo shows at the Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts; Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai and the Carlos Lozano Gallery in Cadaques, Spain. Now, his works of sculptural installations in fibreglass, rope and paint are on display at New York’s Talwar Gallery until 17 November. His work, ‘Traces’, made with stencil, acrylic and silicone on canvas, was estimated to fetch Rs57,500 at Saffronart’s autumn online auction held on 5 and 6 September, and it finally sold for Rs23 lakh.
An untitled work from 2006
One of his untitled works of mixed media, burnt paper with silkscreen backing, was bought for Rs7.15 lakh at the Christie’s auction of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art held in New York on 20 September.
JAGANNATH PANDA, 37
Art comes full circle for Jagannath Panda as he revisits one of his early works to layer it with new inspiration. The versatile artist is remaking Sphere, a 3ft-high paper sculpture that first won him critical acclaim as a student of London’s Royal College of Art in 2002.
By glueing thousands of bit-sized words snipped from an English dictionary over a gas-filled balloon, Panda created a moon-shaped shell that became part of the collection of a London-based insurance company.
Recognition came slower at home. No gallery was interested in displaying his work. His first break came when a Saffronart auction decided to put his work out in 2005. This was his first big exhibition ground, and reactions from art connoisseurs to his ethereal work titled City Breeds—a giant egg suspended over a sprawling landscape—were spontaneous.
There are reasons why critics believe that Panda will survive beyond the art boom. A small-town boy, and the son of a watchman, Panda grew up in Bhubaneswar with few luxuries, keenly observing the highs and lows of a rapidly changing society and putting them on to canvas with sensitive brushwork.
Most of his works deal with his immediate surroundings—the green oasis of his home for many years in dusty Ayanagar, located on the fringes of Gurgaon, adjoining New Delhi, that is fighting off pressures of an urbanizing neighbourhood.
Panda did a series on cyclones after the 1999 Orissa cyclone
But Panda, who obtained his master’s degree in sculpture from the MS University of Baroda, before proceeding to London, manages to make even a grimy cityscape of concrete and wire, a marriage tent, men huddled around a water tank with buckets and a pipe spilling slime, seem poetic.
Often, he seeks refuge in metaphors and uses a crow, a goat or a tiger to convey the bestiality of human nature. He observes the nuances of their selfishness, greed, anger and puts them in the context of mankind, but always subtly, without offending the viewer.
Panda recently moved house to Gurgaon. He says his works will continue to draw energy from wherever he locates himself, drawing on the ambiguities of life. “You can understand life in many different directions,” says Panda, “that is what I want to paint.”
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE:
“Jagannath’s gift is that he’s a sculptor at heart. It’s almost as if he’s sculpting paintings in his work.”
Shireen Gandhy, director, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
“He’s rooted in where he comes from, yet a lot of his inspiration comes from the city. He combines the best of both (worlds)—elements of folk art from Orissa, as well as Western minimalist features.”
Peter Nagy, director, Nature Morte, New Delhi
After successful shows at Nature Morte in New Delhi and Gallery Chemould in Mumbai, his works were exhibited at the ShContemporary Art Fair in Shanghai between 6 and 8 September. The artist is currently working on a 5ft-high sculpture of a pear in fabric for Grid, a show to be curated by Gayatri Sinha at Bodhi Art, Mumbai. It opens on 3 November. Peter Nagy of New Delhi’s Nature Morte is taking two of Panda’s sculptures to the Fiac Art Fair in Paris beginning on 18 October.
‘Night After’, one of Panda’s unexhibited works of acrylic and fabric on canvas, fetched Rs42.5 lakh at Saffronart’s autumn online auction held on 5 and 6 September. An untitled work of mixed media on paper went for Rs2.6 lakh at Sotheby’s auction of South Asian contemporary art in New York on 21 September.
CHINTAN UPADHYAY, 35
Rajasthani miniature art, advertising imagery and hologram and laser images meet seamlessly in Chintan Upadhyay’s art. He also plays with images from Hindi films, pornographic literature and films. Given the obvious lack of a single thread that binds Upadhyay’s work, it is easy to talk about him and his work in hyperboles—overtly sensational and larger-than-life, or irreverent and original, whichever way you look at it. He’s clearly the biggest—in experience as well as marketability—among the five artists featured here.
It took six months to finish New Indians
Take, for example, his famous baby figures. Named variously— New Breed Hybrid , Cloned Vithhala and Designer Babies —for shows spanning three years, Upadhyay is still working with the same figure. “The idea of sameness hit me after I moved to Mumbai in the late 1990s. Everything seemed like a replica of another. I wanted to play with the idea of cloning, hence the baby figures, whom I call ‘Smart Alecs’,” Upadhyay explains. His adults are robotic, but eroticized—with Indian miniature paintings, often images from the Kamasutra , superimposed on their nude bodies.
In 2005, Upadhyay’s installation and interactive performance, Baar Baar Har Baar, Kitni Baar? at Vadodara’s Sarjan Gallery, invited ire and awe when, as part of the artwork, he squatted on the gallery floor nude and asked for alms. “Right now, I’m struggling to find a new language that will depict urban decay and distortion. The language has to justify the concept,” he says.
Upadhyay grew up in Rajasthan and trained at Vadodara’s MS University. “I’m very attached to my hometown, Jaipur, but Mumbai actually gave me wings,” he says.
After two solo shows at the Ashish Balram Nagpal Gallery in Mumbai in 2006, and a group show of Indian contemporary art at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in March 2007, Upadhyay is now working on large-scale sculptures for an exhibition at Taipei’s National Museum of Modern Art which starts on 8 October. He is also curating a show of drawings by 22 artists such as Jagannath Panda, G.R. Iranna, Riyas Komu and Yashwant Deshmukh, on at Mumbai’s Museum Art Gallery from 8-14 October.
The work he is taking to Taipei is an extension of his ‘Clone Vitthala’ series, of 18 painted babies in a mirrored room. One of Upadhyay’s works from the same series, ‘New Indian’ (33 sculptures of babies made with fibreglass, wood, gold leaf and acrylic paint) was the highest estimated work at Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art from South Asia in New York on 21 September, which fetched Rs2.3 crore.
Chintan’s ‘Designer Babies’ (2004)
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE:
“His biggest asset is that he consciously reinvents himself. He has a natural knack for pushing the envelope, he is restless about doing new things. But he always says that he is a painter at heart.”
Ashish Balram Nagpal, owner, Ashish Balram Nagpal Gallery, Mumbai
After two solo shows at the Ashish Balram Nagpal Gallery in Mumbai in 2006, and a group show of Indian contemporary art at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in March 2007, Upadhyay is now working on large-scale sculptures for an exhibition at Taipei’s National Museum of Modern Art which starts on 8 October. He is also curating a show of drawings by 22 artists such as Jagannath Panda, G.R. Iranna, Riyas Komu and Yashwant Deshmukh, on at Mumbai’s Museum Art Gallery from 8-14 October.The work he is taking to Taipei is an extension of his ‘Clone Vitthala’ series, of 18 painted babies in a mirrored room. One of Upadhyay’s works from the same series, ‘New Indian’ (33 sculptures of babies made with fibreglass, wood, gold leaf and acrylic paint) was the highest estimated work at Sotheby’s auction of contemporary art from South Asia in New York on 21 September, which fetched Rs2.3 crore.
SHILPA GUPTA, 31
She is one of the youngest artists from India to make a mark in the international arena. In fact, rewards and praises have come her way more from abroad.
Shilpa Gupta is in India in October
Besides her home city, Mumbai, where the artist was brought up and educated, Gupta’s works have not been widely exposed to art lovers in other Indian cities. Her interactive video and digital installations are part of a few private collections such as the Anupam Poddar collection and art consultant and collector Amrita Jhaveri’s private collection.
Gupta has shown her installations and photographs at the Tate Modern, London (2001), the Bose Pacia gallery in New York and has participated at the Sydney Biennial and at a group show at the DaimlerChrysler Contemporary since her first solo at Mumbai’s Sakshi Art Gallery in 2000.
Her most memorable video installation is bandwidth.net, in which, on a life-size computer screen, she invited viewers to go through a virtual tour of her creations. Much like Komu’s creations, her works are imbued with messages about larger issues—in her case, issues of religious beliefs and dogmas. Viewers are invited to follow a step-by-step path to be mock-blessed by “god’s blessings”—Gupta’s way of taking a jab at religious rituals, while acknowledging their presence in human life. “For me, the Web is an extension of my daily reality, and no other medium can be more potent .”
Gupta believes that her works are meant to alter the market-driven way of looking at art and bring it out of private galleries and homes to the public space. Currently, her installations are part of the permanent collection of Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Tokyo, and The Asia Society, New York.
“At the moment, the scene is in a moment of great change in India. On the one hand, there is more support from serious galleries for video and digital art, and on the other, artists who were doing, or were interested in, video art are switching to painting and sculpture because of pressures of the new market,” she says.
Gupta is back in Mumbai in the last week of October, after which she starts working on a solo show—her biggest so far.
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE:
“Shilpa is one of those artists who demands a lot from the viewer, intellectually and physically, and she is among the few artists from the new generation who have broken away from all the norms of formal training.”
Atul Dodiya, artist
Gupta is presently in Paris for the Paris Project, a video installation workshop where she will develop her own work commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art—Val de Marne, France. It will open on 5 October and will be shown for six months. She’s making another video installation for ‘Grid’ at the Bodhi Art gallery in Mumbai, opening on 3 November. Her works are part of the Anupam Poddar collection in New Delhi, and are estimated at Rs30-40 lakh.
RIYAS KOMU, 36
Three disparate ideas/things drive Riyas Komu’s artistic impulses—politics, used wood and automobiles. He believes that the 1992 communal riots in Mumbai changed everyone in the city forever, and a lot of his art is an attempt to convey this change. The (SEZ) special economic zones issue and the plight of farmers have begun to bother him too. In a somewhat decrepit hired room near his Borivali studio, three carpenters are always at work—cutting and moulding old wood for his sculptures. “Wood is anyway a dead material, and used wood has the unmistakable stamp of passing time. When used to create something else, it becomes, for me, like migrants—with a lot of history and baggage, but in the big city to start anew, or make something out of themselves,” he says.
Komu spends a lot of time outside his studio, in the middle of a garage, sculpting. “I love the sounds and smells of automobiles,” he says. A short ride in his black Ambassador, a tour through his two studios, and we’re right at the centre of the noisy garage.
Komu himself, it appears, represents a lot of the urban contradictions that his works are known to depict. The deck of a larger-than-life wooden ship with motifs such as the cross, the worker’s sickle and hammer, the crescent moon and the Star of David questions irrational religious practices, while some works in oil on canvas are portraits of people from streets and slums, as well as the rich and glamorous.
He inherits his political leanings from his family—from Thrissur, Kerala. His uncles were local communist leaders and his father inculcated leftist opinions in him from a young age. The love of art brought him to Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Art in 1992. “From then on, I felt that it was my duty to be political. My paintings should look back at the viewer, rather than just tell a story. Especially now, when art has a wider reach and can actually influence the way people look at what’s happening in society,” he says.
omu has strong views on the art boom, although he is a beneficiary himself: “Look at the art that sells the most, the masters, for example. They were made during bad times, when there weren’t many opportunities for artists. Now, art is about what’s cool, very few artists depend on memory.”
Komu’s portraits are of people he photographs
Komu’s first big solo show was at Mumbai’s Sakshi Art Gallery in 2002, a year after he graduated. He hasn’t looked back since, with another solo at the same gallery two years later.
This year, American curator Robert Storr, during one of his talent-scouting trips to Mumbai, happened to come across Komu’s series of seven works inspired by Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s film Circle—a veiled Muslim woman, bullet wound on one of her cheeks, painted in seven different angles—and picked it up for the Venice Biennale.
Meanwhile, an extended series on the ship deck theme is in the offing, as also a series of portraits based on a photograph that he clicked of a street boy in Mumbai.
‘Designated March’ by a Petro Angel(2007)
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE:
“Riyas’ work has a very distinctly Indian point of view. His style or technique isn’t what strikes you when you look at his art. It’s what he can say about modern India, its dichotomies and crises.”
Bose Krishnamachari, artist and curator
Komu is one of two Indian artists represented at this year’s Venice Biennale, along with Nalini Malani. His work, ‘Designated March by a Petro Angel’, a work of seven large paintings (oil on canvas) are part of a show curated by American curator Robert Storr, displayed at the Arsenale & Giardini gallery, Venice, until 21 November. He is also part of ‘Grid’ a show to be curated by Gayatri Sinha, that opens in Mumbai’s Bodhi Art Gallery on 3 November. His wood sculpture, ‘Ego Brain’, is part of a group show of Indian contemporary art that opens in Milan on 18 October. Komu’s ‘Systematic Citizen XII’ (oil on canvas) fetched Rs26.4 lakh at the autumn auction of contemporary art at Saffronart.