Usha Ramachandran’s sculptures delicately cast the drama in movement

Usha Ramachandran’s sculptures are movements frozen in time. A man in windswept clothes stands with his upturned umbrella blowing away; another shields himself from torrential rain with a long leaf and a third runs from searing sunlight with a newspaper for protection. Usha’s people are usually busy with the business of life, and her works capture their split-second moments of beauty within the mundane. With 31 such sculptures, and 37 of her paintings on display at Durbar Hall Art Gallery, Usha says, “Variety lies in ordinary people.”

Observing life

Usha finds inspiration from the lives of people around her, from the news on television, and from newspaper clippings. “I like people; I like observing them. Their faces and expressions stay in my mind long after they’re gone,” she says. It’s usually strong visual moments that translate into her art. A series of sculptures feature sportsmen in action — a footballer dives in time to save the goal, and two others are caught midway through a powerful kick. “I hope to create some on tennis players as well,” says Usha. Besides the rippling muscles and engaged faces that define sharp movements, three of Usha’s pieces on display are physically mobile as well. The sculptures of a girl skipping rope, a man pole vaulting and a diver taking off from his board move back and forth when touched.

Usha also draws from the various cultures she has been exposed to. As wife to C. Ramachandran, who was in the services, she shifted house several times across the country and the characters she met then people her work now. “I’ve lived in Kollam, Kasaragod, Delhi and Chennai but I’ve been settled in Thiruvananthapuram for 25 years now.” ‘The Village Bard’, which features a man playing a simple bow and string nanduni, is drawn from the sight of temple singers near her current home; ‘Little Laundress’ depicts a young washerwoman Usha saw near Palakkad and ‘Papa’s Lift’ shows a farmer father, dressed in a mundu with a towel thrown over one arm, carrying his child atop his shoulders as they walk to the local evening shadow play.

Such familial love is a common occurrence through Usha’s work. Fathers sit fishing beside their children and mothers caress their newborns.

Usha’s own career as an artist began at 60, after her children were settled and her husband had retired. “You’re in a different world when you are creating. You need time, and concentration, which is difficult to get when you’re raising kids and have a household to run,” says Usha. With time on her hands now, Usha sculpts and sketches as inspiration strikes. “I first make a skeleton of the figure in wire, then I mould in wax, adjusting proportions as I go along. Once I’ve got the balance right, the figure is then cast in bronze.” While Usha prefers bronze over other materials as it gleams well and lasts long, a few of her works in fibreglass, and wood are also on display. For instance, ‘The Bird’s Fascinating Tale’ has a man cast in brown fibreglass with a bronze bird seated on his shoulder, whispering in his ear.

While Usha is currently prolific as a sculptor, her first steps into the art world were as a self-taught painter. Her works in charcoal, oil, acrylic and pastels of everyday people hang aplenty on the gallery walls. “My first solo exhibition, in 2009, was of paintings. There I met V. Satheesan who taught me the basics of sculpture, and by 2010 I had my first exhibition of sculptures - ‘The Bronze Age’. A piece from here was given the Honourable Mention by Kerala Lalithakala Akademi and that gave me immense confidence.” Thus motivated, Usha is currently on her eighth solo exhibition, ‘Rhythms of Life’. The show will be on till October 6 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.