Manohar Chiluveru talks about his new series on the Indian cow, his ambitious plans to take it global and why crowd funding will help art projects

Every nook and corner of Manohar Chiluveru’s studio at Srinagar Colony feels like a treasure trove. Several large paintings, mostly from ‘The Cow’ series are placed against the walls. One large work is yet to get finishing touches, when we meet him. A couple of small, unfinished cow sculptures with the skeletal structure plastered with cardboard lie in a corner. In the adjacent room, there are several of his small and large fibre glass sculptures. ‘The Cow’ is not a one-time exhibition and will be a series, informs Manohar. Some of these are now on display at the Western Block of Salar Jung Museum for an exhibition hosted by the museum and Kalakriti Art Gallery.

The present series on the Indian cow is something that’s been brewing in his mind for a while. “Each morning when I walk down the streets I come across people who bow to a cow when they spot one. Our mornings begin with coffee/tea, which invariably contains milk, and a newspaper. By afternoon, I see these cows wandering about, at times feeding on garbage. Revered in the morning and neglected by afternoon, where does our holy cow stand today?” he asks. The artist plans to make life-size sculptures of the cow, completely covered in newspapers, and exhibit these across five continents. He is in talks with like-minded art patrons and is also looking at crowd funding the project through the website www.thecowartproject. com

The idea of crowd funding comes from his observations in the international art scenario. “European galleries commission artists for special projects and shell out a good sum or opt for crowd funding. We have limited scope. Our art process follows artist-to-gallery and gallery-to-buyer format. Young artists tend to take routes similar to that of established artists hoping for sustenance. We need to think of large art projects like a film production where money is pooled in and artists are commissioned to work,” he argues.

In 2006, Manohar spent considerable time painting in galleries in London. “I learnt how my perspective towards art changed when I was painting in my studio and when I was painting in front of an audience,” he says. Unwittingly, he painted a 30ft wide image of a cow. It wasn’t planned, he says. “Before one becomes an art student and learns art history and the work of iconic artists, one paints in response to his surroundings. Perhaps that’s why I found myself painting a cow in London.”

While in London, he also used his time to sculpt. Manohar doesn’t sculpt with clay. He prefers to ‘construct’ his objects using available materials, varying from metal to fibre glass, cardboard to paper mache. Across his place of stay in Hounslow, he spotted the metro station with stands of free newspapers. “I would collect the leftover newspapers and use them for my sculptures. I would also purchase material from one dollar stores for the sculptures,” he remembers.

One of the sculptures now exhibited at Salar Jung Museum is wrapped in newspaper. The teats of the cow are connected to water pipes and balanced on a pentagon structure. The inference is left to the viewer. As the artist perceives it, “The cow feeds us, but when we consume its products in abundance, in a way it takes a toll on the earth. Cow is a metaphor of to earth in my work.”

Versatility has always been Manohar’s strength. His work space spans across three different studios, one dedicated to paintings, another for sculpture and the third, a factory on the city’s outskirts where his sculptures get finishing touches. He spends most of his time between these studios, when he isn’t travelling. Travel, he says, has shaped the way he looks at art. Born in Warangal, Manohar remembers being very good in his painting classes but weak in studies. “We used to have competition between different classes for Children’s Day and my class would win because I would paint and decorate well,” he smiles.

Manohar studied B.Com in college but realised he wasn’t cut out for it. Art was a natural progression. When he was studying his masters at Central University, he met Udayalakshmi, his junior, whom he later married.

“Art brought us together,” smiles the artist. Udayalakshmi took a different route to art. She teaches painting to women, helps them in Tanjore paintings for commercial purposes and stokes her creative side through stunning masks. “You make a first impression with the face. Expressions and features fascinate me,” she says. Her masks are often in striking colours with subtle to bold ornamentation. She uses gold foil, acrylic colours and at times does emboss work on the masks. She prefers open-eyed masks to the meditative, close-eyed masks crafted by Manohar. “We both have a different outlook to art and give each other the respect and space in our work,” she says.

Make it large

Many of Manohar’s paintings and sculptures are life-size ones and he reasons, “Once I am convinced of the idea, I think of the scale.

The size is not to seek attention. Certain subjects, as I perceive them, require large formats to make an impression on the audience. Unless a work of art engages in a dialogue with the viewer, it loses its purpose. The intent is not to create a potential masterpiece but something spontaneous that will connect with to the audience,” he says.