The essence of Pierre Legrand’s work is captured beautifully, perhaps with a deliberate touch of irony, by the title of a new book on him, published by Roli Books. Light Matter is an apposite description not only for the external form of the objects Legrand creates but also of their content.

Made mostly with wire mesh and mosquito net, there is a delicate, even ephemeral, texture to his art. Pleasing to behold, these scroll-like structures, perforated and hung from the wall, are transluscent, allowing for an interplay of light and shadow, strikingly light to hold and behold. But the decorative prettiness of Legrand’s practice is also sharply undercut by a complex intellectual superstructure that holds it together. Once you start engaging with the layers of thought that have gone into the making of these forms, you realize these are no light matter at all.

Legrand came to India in 1967. At the time, the Paris-born artist was working as an engineer, a job he did not find particularly rewarding, although he later came to acknowledge its benefits.

“I think it gave me the best training to practise art," says Legrand, who was in Delhi this week for the release of the book and to show some of his work at the French embassy. “At least for the kind of work that I make," he clarifies.

Never having gone to art school, Legrand was a late bloomer—he started working professionally from 1984—even an accidental artist of sorts. “It was my encounter with the Mother in Pondicherry (Puducherry) that turned my mind," he says.

After leaving his life and job in Paris to move to India, Legrand joined the community in Auroville in 1968. Drawn to the place for its spiritual resonance, he has been living there with his wife Anuradha Majumdar for four decades now, in relative seclusion from the noise of the Delhi art scene.

In the 30 years that span his career, Legrand has moved from the charm of easy formalism to testing out ideas that mingle music with art to creating a uniquely coded language so that he could embed poetical lines into his work. His practice now straddles painting and sculpture, realism and abstraction, design and architecture, language and symbolism.

The “alphabet" that Legrand came up with is a set of symbols resembling Braille. “It was inspired by window grills and their geometric patterns," he says, with a self-deprecatory smile. The angular iron cast came together in his mind as shadowy prototypes of the Roman script, represented by lines and dots, sometimes by crumbling shapes. Even after years of familiarity it may not be easy to decipher the messages that these arrangements are meant to communicate. But it is not hard at all to be seduced by their innate elegance.

One of the most riveting aspects of Legrand’s style is his confident use of colours. Bold, bordering on the brash, his compositions exude the impressionist energy one feels while looking at pointillist paintings. Hung like curtains or spread out on the floor, his installations can quickly become part of one’s daily life—a source of pleasing distraction as well as contemplation.

Close