CHENNAI: This sculpture is that of a mother and her child; this is a bride.” The first one clearly looks the part but with the additions that only an experienced artist can bring to it; the second piece of art needs no such comment it draws you in on the very first look.
“I did this all (nearly 200 pieces of sculpture and painting) during the pandemic.” That’s 87-year-old veteran artist S Murugesan, talking about the busy year he’s had. It’s this pandemic collection (a few pieces from the previous year too) that is set to be displayed at Lalit Kala Akademi’s Independence Day festivities, under the banner Visual Treasures: A Retrospection.
Between posing for pictures at the gallery that is still far from ready for Sunday, I ask him how he still manages to muster the energy for sculpting. “See...a writer writes easily; it’s the publication that takes time. Like that, I design my sculptures easily; it’s the making that takes time,” says the artist, brushing off the backbreaking work as simply time-consuming. Perhaps, here is where I should note that it took three men to move one of the sculptures. The rest — solid bronze or brass pieces — weren’t child’s play either.
Inspired by struggles
According to the Akademi’s chairman, Uttam Pacharne, the idea is to mark Independence Day with the works of an artist who is a living testament of that era. And Murugesan has much to say about how that period greatly influenced artists of his time. His early years in Madurai were filled with protests, public meetings (one gathered for the arrival of Gandhi himself) and the common struggle that seemed to permeate the entire country. Amid all this, he held the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh as a big inspiration; though it had been a couple of decades before his birth.
“War always serves as an inspiration,” he remarks, recounting how Pablo Picasso’s war painting drew so much attention and remained special to the artist himself. But, art today has moved from history to creativity, he points out. “Though they have a better vision, feeling and everything, the work is not about people. We are not very keen on the people who sacrificed (their lives for independence). We had to do that then because it was about information. Now, it is purely about the artist’s imagination,” he elaborates.
But inspiration should come from any source, he suggests. “People can say they are very much influenced by Rembrandt. But that is occasional. When it comes to your art, inspiration comes from people you meet every day. All kinds of people. Meeting all of you today could be an inspiration,” he offers.
Art is everywhere
Returning to the subject at hand, he opines that moving away from the need to document has served to democratise art in a large way. While once we focused on academic learning of the arts, today, anyone and everyone is an artist; that’s because art comes to us naturally, he says. “Whether you’re a learned person or not, art resides in everybody. If you see Nehru’s files, he would have drawn in it before making decisions. If you want calligraphy, you need art. Want to design furniture, you need art. Want to be a good cinematographer, you need knowledge of art. It’s in your clothes, our homes... it’s everywhere.”
But, the problem today is a lack of proper support for upcoming artists, he suggests. “Compared to other countries, art is ignored in our education here. Here, they never bothered about training people. Plenty of artists are coming up but they don’t get proper encouragement or guidance. In school, there are no proper teachers for art. Even in these art institutions. It’s very unfortunate,” he remarks.
Ask him how his work would have shaped up had he been an artist of today’s climes and he goes, “Take a man in prehistoric times. He didn’t have clothes or speech. He hunted small animals and lived in caves. But what did he do immediately after that? He painted what he saw on rocks. Like that, art cannot be separated from the person. One brings what they can to it,” he concludes. If his paintings and sculptures are anything to go by, you would agree. To get more of the artist and his works, visit the exhibition on August 15 at 4 pm. The exhibition is on till August 21.