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.