Jitish Kallat looked at an auto rickshaw and saw in it a work of art. The 33-year-old saw in it not a malevolent force that is as tenacious and crafty as a weed, but he recognized in its bare structure the violence of a mob, the humour of its shape, and the necessity of its function.
Kallat’s Autosaurus Tripous, a skeletal structure that resembles the carcass of an auto rickshaw, is made up of what seems like the bones of a prehistoric animal. In fact, the sculpture was created from fibreglass fabrications of the bones of several kinds of animals; the overall effect seems humorous, yet you’re not sure why you are laughing. “This redundant vehicle is the carrier of several themes. It is supposed to be burlesque, grotesque and arabesque at the same time. I was inspired by undesirable images in the media of torched vehicles during riots, and at the same time it looks like an unearthed relic,” says Kallat.
All out of the three-edition work of Autosaurus have been sold to private collections; two went at the ShContemporary for a quarter of a million dollars. An artist’s proof of the work will be on display at Chemould Prescott gallery for Kallat’s first Indian solo in two years, called Sweatopia. The show is an accumulation of Kallat’s works over the past two years, a time that has seen him exhibit at important spaces such as Arario, Beijing, and Walsh Gallery, Chicago.
The route that Kallat’s Autosaurus has gone on depicts perfectly the working life of Jitish Kallat. A Mumbai boy who went to Sir JJ School of Art and still lives in his city, but one who no longer operates in the national space. His works are in international collections, and he rarely has shows in his home country anymore. In fact, his latest show, which begins today at Chemould Prescott and Bodhi Art, marks the 10-year anniversary of his first solo, called P.T.O.—he was just 23. “We had opened at Prithvi with a show by Pentagram, and I remember a senior artist asking my dad, ‘What’s your son doing?’” remembers Kallat.
Artist Making Local Call features Kallat
Kallat has been sort of lucky from Day 1. His first solo with Chemould came at a time when most artists they launched were in their 30s or older, and the Contemporary scene stood on unsteady legs. “Back then, things were slow and the outward pace didn’t match my timing,” he says. “Today, the outward pace compares with my own and I am more comfortable now.”
Kallat’s success also comes from the fact that just as much as his art is inspired by his “immediate university, the street”, it is also accessible in theme and content. His works are what the public wants to see, and whether it is the lobby of a hotel chain or the entry way of an international bank, his creations not only work with the aesthetics of where they are displayed but larger themes are worked into them quietly, with a contemporary take. Artist Sudhir Patwardhan calls them “cool, in a postmodern way.” “But Jitish is sensitive to the issues of his generation and he incorporates subtle responses to his concerns through his work,” says Patwardhan.
Nothing reflects that better than Kallat’s latest work, Public Notice-2, which is currently on show at Hangar Bicocca, Milan. It is made of approximately 4,500 individual sculptures of letters from the alphabet shaped like bones; they spell out Mahatma Gandhi’s historical speech propagating peace before he embarked on the non-cooperation movement. “Peace, as we know, is a vital ingredient missing in the world today and it is perhaps the moment to revisit voices like Gandhi’s to restore our terror-infected world,” says Kallat. It comes four years after Kallat made Public Notice-1, a large mirror piece with the text of Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on the eve of independence in charred letters .
But Kallat, father of two-year-old, Ahaan and husband of artist Reena Saini Kallat, is also a prolific writer and essayist. His latest was the introduction to Patwardhan’s new show in Mumbai. “Jitish is one of those rare artists who spends time thinking about other people’s works in a constructive way. He’s always intellectually alive to what’s going on around him and, in that way, he is an important contemporary presence,” says Patwardhan.
Kallat stays in the same building as actor Aamir Khan in suburban Mumbai. But the artist is far more accessible than the idol, and his sparse but tastefully done home reflects the contained needs of a new family. It’s a down-to-earth spot that reflects his practicality. “I never keep track of what I have done in the past, and I move on to new projects without worrying about externalities. The best artists are very aware of everything but less concerned about everything,” he says.
Sweatopia will be on at Chemould Prescott and Bodhi Art, Mumbai, until 8 January.