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Aashna Abrol discusses smiling figurines with KS RADHAKRISHNAN

“I had always desired to be a painter and not a sculptor” 

KS Radhakrishnan was born in Kottayam in 1956. Despite enrolling for an undergraduate degree in political science, he left it after a year to start an artistic journey from his alma mater in Santiniketan.

Aashna Abrol with K.S. Radhakrishnan

Reminiscing 45 years ago of his life, he shares, “I had always desired to be a painter and not a sculptor”. However, the entry in Santiniketan marked his exploration in a myriad of mediums like graphics, painting, sculpture, among others. During that time, Kala Bhavan conducted preliminary-two years, post which students were allowed to choose a suitable elective. Under the tutelage of Sarbari Roy Choudhury, Somnath Hore and Ramkinkar Baij, Radhakrishnan assimilated, analysed and re-interpreted his methods of expressions.

Aashna Abrol, in a candid conversation with the eminent sculptor KS Radhakrishnan, learns about his onset of career, impressions from Kala Bhavan and a perpetual growth under the warm, educational shelter of Ramkinkar Baij.

“For me, whatever he (Ramkinkar Baij) has said is almost like a Bible.”

AA: I will be glad to learn in detail about your experience with notable and reputed artist Ramkinkar Baij.

Santhal Family

RK: For me whatever he has said was almost like a Bible. Ramkinkar Baij and Sarbari Roy Choudhury, both lived on campus; however, Sarbari Roy Choudhury was part of the sculpture faculty, whereas Ramkinkar Baij was retired. Sarbari Roy Chaudari introduced me to him. He was like an eccentric saint and incredibly genius. In 1925, at the age of 18-19, he arrived in Santiniketan and studied under Nandalal bose. And around 1930, he began teaching there. Furthermore, in 1938, he created the landmark sculpture called Santhal family. Similarly, Mill Call, The Harvester, and all these sculptures were directly made of concrete (cement).

It was very provocative to state that during pre-colonial times, Britishers built their viceroy statues in prime Indian cities to glorify their governance. However, it was revolutionary of Ramkinkar to work on the subject of Santhal, a tribal community, who did not have much socio-economic or political significance. As a subtle response to the daily movements of this tribal community, he brought out the aesthetic sensibilities in his fantastic art pieces. The large sculptures were placed on the campus. With the passing of time, these concrete works have decayed, altering the surfaces and overall external appearance. However, government-commissioned bronze replicas are like documents of art history.

He tried all the mediums and techniques, he was not limited to one thing, practising etching, drawing and painting. He would intuitively and spontaneously draw, visiting fields, observing peasants working in paddy fields. Over a period of time, that was one of the reasons that I got closer to him. We shared a distinct bond. He died in 1980.

I stayed in Santiniketan till 1981. It was a privilege to be born at the right time to meet and work with him. He would comment on my work, which assisted me to develop my perception about life and art-most important aspect to understand is to develop a way of seeing to create an effortless self-identity. He would say, “You do your way and then it becomes everybodys”

AA: Your sculptures defy centre of gravity and I am curious to know your journey before arriving at these forms. How did the transition happen?

RK: Each sculpture has an independent structure. Sometimes I might draw some animal like a dog or buffalo, but I conveniently distort it to the extent that it may not look like where it started. It is like a departure from what you look at and what you make. I was not an academic. I wanted to work that suits our own temperament and make an interpretation in my way. I may look at a tree, but may not draw what I see or feel. In sculpture, we make an independent structure despite the reference.

Even in the human figure, slowly, I started adding planes and juxtaposed them together. I was always interested in incorporating movement. If the essence of the movement is brought in works, you have been successful in embedding life. It was not like I had thought of air-bound sculptures before. The ‘Musui, Maiya’, the first show was held at Vadehra Gallery, New Delhi.

The features of these two characters, Musui and Maiya, the two archetypes, began recurring strongly. Prior to that, there was a head and hand with an absence of character or defined feature of human or so. Although these two characters appear like humans, they have unnatural poses like thrown into space and holding of hands and legs. The whole thing has lightness. I had to make an effort to bring balance because that makes us feel comfortable. For instance, when we see someone walking on the rope, we feel excited. So, I wanted the viewers to feel composed looking at my work while appearing instinctively natural and spontaneous. It is natural to be walking on hands. That comes from different directions of limbs and hands and importantly, ‘smile’. Here, my figures are performing in a happy mood. In this case, they don’t worry about the system of precariousness and witness it smilingly, comfortable in the expression. This brings air boundness.

“I wanted to give a face to the quality of tactility and instil the feeling of the same. I wanted to show the movement of time.”

AA: They seem like a flock of birds settling, arriving, flying and doing everything together to achieve the collective desire like the collective conscience. Any comments

RK: I got an old fan and posed figures to represent the breeze. I wanted to give a face to the quality of tactility and instil the feeling of the same. I wanted to show the movement of time. These flock of figures try to express momentum. That’s how I started working with these small figurines.

After having chosen sculpture as specialization, the next five years in Kala Bhavana, Radhakrishnan completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree. He learned Bronze casting under professor Sarbari Roy Choudhury. 

Constitution as a Human Tree, Supreme Court of India

Moreover, the technique of Bronze casting was tiresome, which needed an arrangement of firewood and big finance. During his one year fellowship under Lalit Kala Akademi, he continued to create many sculptures, which were made into bronze later. He created small Bronze pieces to realise the techniques and methodology.

AA: Could you tell us about the whole process of casting in bronze? How did the work on such a large scale happen?

RK: We first prepare the clay model to create mould and then pour wax to prepare the cast, which during firing, while pouring molten bronze, melts and leaves the cavity. Because my sculptures are dimensionally varied, the metal does not flow easily. The large sculptures are, therefore, done in pieces; heads and legs are separately made and then welded together. So, we make hollow sculptures instead of solid. If it is hollow it is stronger, which is not otherwise. Also, Bronze is feasible to work. And in case of my air bound and other figurines which require minimum conduct on the ground, it is only possible in Bronze.

AA: Have you ever experimented in Aluminium or any other metal to cast?

On a Split Base, India Habitat Centre

RK: No other medium other than brass or bronze gives the scope to freely stand. I have tried aluminium and occasionally carving stones, but the kind of sculptures I do, Bronze is the only durable material.

In the journey of being a sculptor, Radhakrishnan has been involved in many monumental public artworks commissioned by the government as well as private authorities. The successful graph of his career began long back in the 1980s when his two sculptures were placed in India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Later in 1990, Kanoria Arts Centre, Ahmedabad sponsored an art workshop with other sculptors. As the golden opportunities rolled, he also had a major exhibition in Paris, France. Radhakrishnan opines, about the then-art-market in India, “there was no big market for sculptures in India then as compared to paintings”. But he was again granted a show in Kolkata, upon an invitation from Sangeeta Jindal and Priya Paul. Maximum artworks were collected by the duo after having displayed in open-air Park street.

Woman on the Rock, TMI France
The Pull, TMI France

Radhakrishnan had umpteen corporate and international offers to show and sell his beautiful creations. In 2005, he was creating sculptures for the Danish art collector, living in southern France. Some of these editions of sculptures are with the Indian collectors as well.

“I am still not tired of bronze. I don’t feel the need to work in new mediums because we can work with traditional mediums and yet to be modern.”

AA: Could you let us know where all your works in public spaces are permanently exhibited?

Musui on the Portal, Goa

RK: My works are displayed at the promenade in Goa, Calicut, Bangalore, and several other metro Indian cities. They (the government), generally, gave me a prime location and open-air space. I really enjoy working outdoors. In private, only limited people have access, but in public space, everybody can see. So, everyone perceives in different ways, which is a beauty of art.

AA: Do you feel like trying new mediums?

RK: I am still not tired of bronze. I don’t feel the need to work in new mediums because we can work with traditional mediums and yet be modern.

AA: What do you think of transformed and new ways to make sculptural installations in the present contemporary scenario?

RK: I really feel most are like fabrications for temporary existence. Artists have the liberty to handle their thoughts. Even in natural and ancient mediums like Bronze and stone you can be a contemporary sculptor. They do not have to be factory products; you don’t have to force yourself to use modern material to create modern works. My way of working Bronze is a contemporary statement. You can be contemporary through any medium or material. It is the idea and your perception that matters.

AA: I remember you did Woodcut printing. Could you share more...

RK: When I was in Santiniketan, I used to do a lot of woodcut printing. I really enjoyed the whole process. Pictorially, it has a phase of making sculpture because you have to carve out the wood. And the relief is printed on the paper by pressing the wooden sheet, using a spoon or so. I still practice printing in my Santiniketan studio. I am planning to have an exhibition in 2021, so I hope I can do more of these.

AA: In one of your interviews, you said, “if not sculptor I would have been a filmmaker”.

RK: My father was in the theatre. I believe, in film-making, there are a lot of possibilities to bring out your ideas, though it is a collective job. I tried getting admission in FTII, but I eventually settled in Santiniketan. Many watch your films because of its circulation. Anyways, I happened to do well in Sculpture. I enjoy seeing films. If I ever make a film, it will be based on my memories, I shall try.

“Connectivity will arrive through collectivity. We are bound to distance ourselves right now.”

AA: How do you believe this pandemic is working out for you?

RK: In art and sculptures, they (figures) are connected and in real people may not, in the present situation. And, I am trying to do the same. Maybe my sculptures are happily connected. They are a collective spirit woven to bring people together for a celebration of life. Connectivity will arrive through collectivity. We are bound to distance ourselves right now. I hope things will change and people will get closer to each other.

Aashna Abrol and her brother with KS Radhakrishnan

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