Ace sculptor Balan Nambiar talks about his latest creation, an unusual stainless steel sculpture installed in Delhi. K.K. GOPALAKRISHNAN

Almost five decades ago a young man from Kannapuram, in Kannur district, Kerala, impressed by the pageantry of Theyyam, joined the Government College of Arts and Crafts of erstwhile Madras after working for six years in the Railways. Late K.C.S. Paniker was the then principal.

During the second year, - he was directly admitted to the second year - one of the practical classes included making sculptures in clay. This student made a five-feet tall sculpture for which his teacher admonished him by pointing out that “second year students are not supposed to make sculptures more than two feet tall,” and ordered him rework his creation.

Sans any protest, the student created another sculpture - just one foot nine inches tall but five feet in breadth “as no specification was prescribed for breadth.”

Obviously the teacher was not pleased with the result. The student and his teacher, however, reached a compromise -- the student would get his own clay to do as he wants. The result is a nine-feet high sculpture, which was acquired by the Government Museum, Madras, same year. And the artist -- Balan Nambiar.

“Perhaps my special love for tall things was inborn,” reminiscences the Bangalore-based Nambiar, who recently created one of his monumental creations in stainless steel in Delhi. “Because of its complexity and size, it may be the most prominent metal sculpture in India,” believes Nambiar.

The earliest landmark in his career was his solo exhibition of outdoor sculptures held in 1975 in Bangalore, with 24 exhibits, , the shortest at about 6 ft and the tallest at 18 feet.

Over the years, he has done over 130 outdoor sculptures, mostly in metal, but some in stone and cement.

Fourteen of his significant sculptures are in Delhi – including five at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), and another five sculptures at the Max Mueller Bhavan.

Tallest piece

The tallest at 3.3 meters high, is at the National Gallery of Modern Art. “I have always wanted to execute one of my monumental sculptures in Delhi”, he adds.

When the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) contacted him about a year ago regarding a monumental sculpture to mark its 50{+t}{+h} anniversary, Nambiar found an appropriate opportunity. “Yet, I was initially hesitant. I was formally invited and given 14 days to submit a proposal. In the normal situation, I would have liked about two months to conceive a concrete proposal. I gave a proposal to make a sculpture based on a model and drawings which were done in 14 days. The IOC symbol of “50 years of growth” was to be pivotal to the sculpture, commemorating a growing organisation.”

Nambiardecided to create a distinctive design with equilateral arms stacked one over the other, attached to a central pipe.

“These plates would be assembled with equal space between layers to give an elliptical shape with the proportion of the golden ratio. Accentuating the elliptical shape in the middle I introduced a solid ramp spiralling upwards from the granite base. Equiangular spiral motifs were used at various points.”

The sculptor set up three solid elliptical arches to encompass the central form. These arches, with six legs firmly anchoring the entire structure, added to the sculpture's compactness while maintaining its elegance and lightness. Though the 6.3 x 5.2 x 4.8 meter arches look delicate and graceful, they are made of 16mm thick solid and firm plates. The fifty layers of horizontal plates are made of 5mm thick sheets.

The principles of Trigonometry and Mathematics along with the latest welding technology and computer knowledge were his Bibles during its execution with 304 grade stainless steel as the chosen medium.

Relentless toil

The latest water-jet cutting technology was opted for cutting the 16mm plates and the precision of cutting is less than half millimetres.

The weight of the sculpture titled as ‘The Sky is the Limit' is a little over 3 metric tonnes. Nambiar and his assistants toiled 12 to 14 hours a day for three weeks to complete the installation,

Was the title given because of his passion for all things tall? “The title has multiple layers of meaning - it looks to the future, to the limitless scope for growth and beyond; and personally, it points to distant horizons with regard to the future of my monumental sculptures in stainless steel.”