Premalya Singh and Ram V. Sutar are two veteran sculptors who have been occupied with casting impressions of the lives around them.

PREMALYA SINGH Like life

The simplicity is striking, the expressions arresting, not to forget the tranquillity that is soothing. It's possible that the three crucial elements crept into the sculptor's realm while getting those critical initial lessons at Santiniketan under the tutelage of Ram Kinkar Baij, a stalwart in the field.

“Yes, it is. Nature was so much part of our lives. We used to dress up in the simplest of clothes. Once I was wearing a red chunni. Nandalal Bose looked at me and said you don't want people to look at the trees, birds or plants…but you. Everybody knew the names of all the trees, on every full moon night, students would sing Rabindranath Tagore's songs. The way of life was so much rooted in Indian culture,” says Premalya Singh, who has just concluded her solo show at Alliance Francaise in Delhi.

Even though Indian ethos resound in the creations of the 80-year-old sculptor, her stories and subjects do not necessarily belong to the soil. Like the terracotta head of an opera singer with his mouth open, sculpted in 1990 after Singh witnessed his performance the same year at the India International Centre.

“When he sang, it looked as if his whole body came into his mouth. There was so much concentration and focus,” recollects Singh. Similarly, the figure of a boy releasing birds took shape after scores of incidents of people taken as hostages were reported in the '90s. With his palms open, the young boy looking up does manage to convey the feeling of liberation and freedom.

Human figures remained glued to her repertoire for ever, even when the artist was being handed down the skill of the trade for the first time by a Swiss lady in Dehra Dun for Rs.100 per class. Post-Partition, Singh moved to the hills with her family. Later, she studied under another known sculptor, Sudhir Khastagir, and at College of Art, Delhi.

Though keen to work on an abstract plane, somehow people keep coming to her head. “The day when people stop coming to my head then maybe I will do abstract work but they will again be simplistic,” she says.

The body of work exhibited at the venue encapsulated the artist's journey of 25 years. That it has been a joyous one all the way reflects in her sculptures. Jayadev's Gita Govinda, the singer rendering a kriti, the terracotta sculpture ‘Family' depicting six human beings huddled together, or Rahim feeding pigeons…the subjects drawn out of her everyday surroundings are happy and at peace.

The exhalted happiness and peace that Singh derives from the process of creating, she says, transfers to the piece. The hunchback or the breathing problems that got aggravated partly due to the strenuous nature of the craft are too trifling to pin down an indefatigable spirit.

RAM SUTAR Casting coup

Yet another life steeped in creativity is Ram Sutar's. His creations installed in public spaces like the 10-foot high bronze sculpture of Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant near Rail Bhawan in Delhi, the bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament House or the 45-foot high monument of the Chambal river at Gandhi Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh — have been a part of our daily lives for long.

But surprisingly this is the first time 85-year-old Padma Shri awardee is showcasing the fibreglass casts of his original works under one roof. “I never felt the need to have an exhibition, and also there was the feeling that galleries may not like my realistic work when there is a tilt towards abstraction,” says Sutar, who says realism entered his framework while he was studying the discipline at Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai.

But that didn't discourage the sculptor to work within the same parameters. The self-belief led to the birth of some brilliant gigantic pieces strewn across the country. Mahatma Gandhi's vital role in Sutar's life becomes evident from the large number of statues he has made of him.

Mahatma in myriad postures — spinning the charkha, walking, meditating, adorn the gallery space. “When I was seven, Gandhiji came to my village for the Swadeshi movement. I burnt my makhmal topi. His teachings of cleanliness, honesty and seva bhaav cast an impression on our minds, ” explains Sutar.

Jawaharlal Nehru too captured his fancy which resulted in a series of sculptures on the man whom Sutar regarded as a thinker. “Not everybody is worth sculpting, but Pandit Nehru had such features which inspired me to sculpt. It is much more interesting to make sculptures of old people,” chuckles the frail Sutar surrounded by the larger-than-life figures of great leaders, freedom fighters, saints, poets, kings and murals at Rabindra Bhawan in Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA).

While at 35, Sutar made a 45-foot cement concrete block out of which he carved the massive Chambal monument, at 85 he intends doing a 75-metre high stainless steel monument titled ‘Progress'. Along with his architect-sculptor son Anil Sutar, he has drawn up a proposal to install the piece near Yamuna river for the approaching Commonwealth Games.

In the list of his most recent pieces figures the mammoth bronze chariot of the Krishna Arjun monument at Brahma Sarovar in Kurukshetra, Haryana, that he created with his son, and the 8-foot statue of social reformer and educationist Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj in Parliament House last year. “More than physical strength, one needs a strong firm mind. I always had this hunger to take up a challenge,” says Sutar.

(On view at LKA till February 22)

More In: Crafts | Arts