GR Iranna, an artist who believes more in the artistic idea and exploits different types of materials and mediums to present his ideas in the best possible way. Born in a small district of Bijapur, Karnataka, moving into the national capital and travelling to the major cities all across the globe, Iranna presents a kaleidoscopic view of the world as experienced by him. Iranna is seen to have experimented with some very strange and rare materials in his paintings and sculptures. In his series ‘Ash to Ash’, ’Ethereal Tree’ and ‘Lofty Tree’ he uses Ash, which overpowers the mind spirit of the onlooker. He blends the postmodern philosophies with the contemporary Indian ideologies.
“It is the ultimate fate for everyone irrespective of their social, intellectual or economic status. The only people who can accept it are the ones who know that the human body is mortal and at the end of the day everything turns into ash.”
Having read poems and couplets written by many saint poets like Allam Prabhu and Kabir he is greatly influenced by the motifs and metaphors used by these poets. One cannot ignore the deployment of different types of metaphors in his work; use of ash, for example, is symbolic of the fragility of human existence and hollowness of the current society which overflows with ego, violence and a power struggle. The metaphor of the tree in his work embodies life in its silence, its stillness and meditative quality.
“I believe in creating a space in myself for assimilating new things. If one creates a void inside them they are ready to absorb new things.”
AA: Tell us something about your journey as an artist, your inspirations, hurdles that you faced and what influenced the evolution of your work till date?
GI: I have experienced the presence of an innate sense of art in me and was drawn towards different forms of art since childhood. Spending a lot of time on my farm during vacations and growing up in an ashram, I was enchanted by the way these things happened. I went to the temples and tried painting there; all these things attracted me. I painted portraits, made drawings and created my toys as a child and see a strong connection between all these types of art forms and science, as the mechanism involved in this is based on science. Initially, I never saw myself being an artist but the turning point in my life was taking admission in an art college That changed my perspective towards art and shaped the artist inside me.
AA: You have used ash in many of your works; it would not be incorrect to say that you have glorified ash, which is ignored by many people as an insignificant substance. What is the inspiration or thought behind it?
GI: Ash is something that scares some people but I feel it is the most significant reality which one can’t ignore or avoid. It is the ultimate fate for everyone irrespective of their social, intellectual or economic status. The only people who can accept it are the ones who know that the human body is mortal and at the end of the day everything turns into ash. I see a strong connection with ash as I was brought up in an ashram where every child is anointed with ‘vibhuti’, applied on the forehead before the prayer. This led to the development of a deep understanding in me and I started to consider ash as holy dust. This practice makes me aware of the feelings that ultimately everyone is going to turn into ash. This also supports my ideology and the connection between political and social life in my work as I started questioning everything around me. Especially the presence of ego and violence in our society; you are brought up in a society and you start believing in that. Why does this violence exist? I visited Hampi and I realised that a monument which was once coveted by many stands in ruins today. Ash does not have its own identity but it has its value and its energy.
AA: How would you summarise your journey from rural ghettos to urban societies and its impact on your work?
GI: I was born in a small place and have travelled to different places gathering experiences from these places. My physical journey has contributed largely to my artistic journey. I consider myself fortunate to have these experiences as it has enabled me to learn new things. Accommodating in a new place was not always easy but I took it up as a challenge and learnt to accept certain things. I believe in creating a space in myself for assimilating new things. If one creates a void inside them they are ready to absorb new things, otherwise, the mind gets conditioned and the work becomes repetitive. One needs to give the mind a creative space and must unlearn to learn new things. As I spoke about ash before as its connection with my art did not develop overnight. It was an element from my childhood and has become stronger as the journey of my life grew richer. My journey has led to the development of a strong bond with various things as I believe that the identity and annotation of everything change if it is connected with something else. For instance, a flower remains the same but its meaning changes when it is offered to a deity in a temple and if it is offered to a dead body. This is similar to art and its purpose.
AA: Which medium or which form of art allows you to express in the best way, sculpture or paintings?
GI: Every artistic idea demands a medium which has its value, it is the job of the artist to exploit these mediums to the best possible extent and present a masterpiece to society. For instance, an idea which demands two-dimensional experiences can’t be expressed accurately in a sculpture. My series ‘Ash to Ash’ that I presented in Kochi Biennale, consisted of large oval planets like structure all across the studio which was a completely overpowering experience that crushes the ego of human beings and asserts the supremacy of nature. The presentation looked very strong and meditative but was extremely fragile in touch. Such experiences can’t be created through a painting. It is the idea that needs a particular material and the job of an artist is to bring in the energy through the selected material.
The central metaphors in Iranna’s art have also seen metamorphosis, moving from concrete figurations to abstraction where he draws more on patterns and erasure of patterns. But through it all, the human condition remains the core of his creations. From his concern over liberalization of the economy in a nation striving to modernize itself and the impact this had on art, the police state emerges as a theme in his later works. His art also was malleable to change over the years, depicting pain as an abstract force and the torment of resistance which were visualized in bruised textures in his art. In Iranna’s work, the viewer can notice an abstraction where metaphors become more subtle. His series of monks and symbolism of carpets are indicative of religion and approach towards god; when human beings put forward their vulnerabilities, their hopes and desires. For Iranna the figure of the monk points towards peace, an absence of desire and search of meaning and journey without a destination. For his sculptures, he uses a different language whereas his paintings speak differently. This distinction emerges very aesthetically in his installation as well, but irrespective of the medium and form, his style takes the beholder to experience the ultimate journey of a mortal being.