The icon and his idiom

Updated: Mar 31 2008, 04:41am hrs
Change may arguably have been the ruling ideology for Satish Gujral as he has repeatedly reinvented himself in his aesthetic searches. But there are constants in his life as well determination, the connection with his roots, endeavour for excellence, a refusal to be typecast, the search for aesthetics among the seemingly mundane. The characteristic textures remain, even as vivid blacks, reds and gold dominate his latest collection. Yet again they showcase a new phase in his creative journey that has already seen a few sharp turns. A journey that has taken six years to reach the level of perfection that the maestro demands of his creations. Where galloping horses and majestic bulls, elaborately saddled and hoofed, prance in magnificent visual text. The 30 sculptures in bronze and 18 acrylic on canvas works, besides a tribute to living icons, fill Delhis Lalit Kala Academi as Metamorphosis: Canvas and Bronze 2004-2008 opens today for a week. Suman Tarafdar seeks to understand the nuances of this versatile genius who has carved his niche in the art world:

This is a new phase in painting and sculpture for you. How do you describe this phase

I have always been inspired by objects. I have long sought to depict the release of energy. My images show animals like bulls and horses in such a way that the equestrian gear gives the feeling of release of energy and freedom. The compositions are made in a way that the gear and the animal become one.

Now I am doing most of these compositions in bronze. I have divided the works into two groups. The first group has one toning black and gold burnt with fire. In the second group I depend more on the patina, which for me is very important as it gives life to the space.

Horses, equestrian symbols what influences and inspirations are at work for you here

Horses and bulls for me have symbolised motion and energy. Also, recently I saw Tibetan tankhas and noticed that many of them had empty spaces and in the centre an image of meditation and peace. I felt that the space reinforced the image in the centre in creating spirituality and peace. This is how I arrived at my present phase of icons that show a black area and over it a design in gold. The gold adds spirituality.

Both, the horse and the bull, to me are associated with motion. And motion has always played a big role in anything that I have created. Partly due to my personal afflictions (of not being able to hear and speak properly), I have striven to break away from stillness. Motion gives a feeling of transition because otherwise a person without sound begins to doubt his own being. In all my work, I have been trying to find proof of my being.

Texture has been a hallmark of your work across your various artistic phases. How did that happen

Texture is most important. I discovered this rough texture about 50 years ago. When I was in Mexico, they had just developed acrylic. The Mexican government had provided an incentive to use acrylic, and I imbibed it. So I used it for two decades before the rest of the world began using it. To overcome this handicap, I developed a rough-grained surface on which I put layers of different tones, so they create this illusion of being branded. Later on, I felt that this technique provided me an advantage in developing a style. Thereafter in the past 50 years, although I have gone through many phases in painting, the texture has not changed. And I have used the same texture in sculpture as well.

Usually sculptors use limited colours or patina as they can get a few readymade. But as I had a technical background, I tried to fire many new patinas. In this exhibition, my sculpture will provide the experience of a variety of patinas. I choose the composition when I think a particular size of canvas can create a sense of space. For most the artist space is a dull thing to me it provides an opportunity to create a composition.

Your present exhibition is an extensive one, and includes a section on icons. What is that

As I exhibit after considerable gaps six years this time the number of works is usually large. In fact wherever I begin a new experiment, I want to reach perfection only then do I think of an exhibition. Since my previous exhibition, all I have had is a retrospective. None of the current work has been exhibited before. The icons are a tribute to some living legends who have inspired the journey. They display immense energy and inner strength.

After experimenting in varied forms and mediums, how do you posit yourself vis--vis your art

Art has never been a career for me. The trouble with the modern age is that society identifies an artist with a physical style, one he is expected to continue. A style is a physical character, a part of invention. Usually an artist is forced to continue with his style fearing a loss of identity. I throw away a style when it begins to stink and take up something different. This has also fostered my interest in architecture.

Are artists experimenting enough, especially in India

Artists should realise when they reach a plateau. Few have the courage to leave it. Picasso he tried everything. Michelangelo and Da Vinci are outstanding examples of multi-faceted personalities. In India, we have had a number of good artists, but not many have worked in more than one medium. I see the younger generation is showing great courage for experimentation. And I have great admiration for it. They will help India secure a global presence in art. Never before have so many artists emerged in such a short time.