Kolkata-based glass artist Uma Singh continues to take on the challenges of the medium. She is having her first solo show of glass sculptures.
Among the handful of glass artists that we have, Uma Singh is one of them. Unavailability of material, labour intensive techniques, requirement of a spacious studio and absence of very many institutes offering courses in glass art coupled with supremacy that the medium of painting still wields in our country, are some of the factors that have confined the reach of the discipline which is ironical given our thriving glass industry in Firozabad. With such few artists working in the field, we are rather lucky that within a span of three months, Delhiites are getting to see a second exhibition of a glass artist and that too of such a senior one. Though practitioners of the same medium, both Srila Mookherjee’s (who exhibited this past August at Art Heritage gallery) and Uma Singh’s work are so different with respect to technique and content. Seeing that the glass artists undaunted by the challenges are continuing to innovate is what brings even more joy to an enthusiast.
“Once you are bitten by the glass bug, it is difficult to stay away from it. I always say it’s not I who chose the medium but it’s the medium that chose me,” says Uma Singh, a 72-year-old glass artist from Kolkata who is having her first ever solo of glass sculptures, “The Gods in Glass”, in Delhi. In her 49 works in glass displayed at the Visual Arts Gallery, Uma depicts various gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology, which look resplendent in light. “I have had to lit them up because white wall just kills a glass work but at home you can do so much with a glass work provided where and how you place it,” explains the senior artist, who was a fashion designer before she turned to glass. She had the first fashion show in 1962 but growing up in Kolkata — full of colonial structures and churches of which stained glass is an important part — she fell for it.
From 2000 onwards, she felt compelled to experiment with different glass working processes. This took her to Pilchuck Glass School, WA, USA, where she studied various techniques between 2000 and 2004. In 2004, she received a scholarship to study kiln casting at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. “We were told in the workshop that glass is the cruellest medium to work with not because of the injuries it can cause you but because you don’t know what happens to it inside a kiln. I have learnt it by trial and error and that’s why it has taken me so long to put together my first solo show.” Out of 30 castings that she did, 15 of them had to be done twice.
“Most artists love bubbles to interfere with their work but at which point does it happen is crucial as it can make or break your work,” says Uma, who says, producing works practicing techniques like kiln casting in lost wax process and cold carving in Indian glass, takes her months.
In the exhibition, she has created works using both these techniques, which is sculptural cast glass object using the lost wax process and sheets of carved glass, one atop another, forming languid figures. She works with two kinds of glass — Bullseye Glass of Oregon and Gaffers Glass of New Zealand.
The exhibition is dotted with realistic and stylised pieces priced between Rs.3 lakh and Rs.7 lakh. While her realistic pieces are for those who don’t like deviations, her abstracts, where she freely experiments with form and lines, will attract somebody whose mind is attuned to innovation. The works of Buddha, Krishna, Parvati, Trishul, Kali rendered in cold carving belies the fragile medium it is sculpted in yet there is no loss on its fluidity. In other works created using the lost wax process, she combines the material with metal and fibre glass. The delicate pieces evoking a feeling of transcendence transform into sheer magic when light falling on different spots enter into a dialogue with the work. For her shapes, Uma says she has borrowed from varied traditions, like the murals of Ajanta, the Patachitra tradition of West Bengal and temples in Bhubaneswar.
(The exhibition is on till October 31 at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, new Delhi)