V. Satheesan’s works reflect a creative struggle for freedom from the shackles of society

Stone takes many shapes and forms in the hands of V. Satheesan, with rough textures and chiselled lines flowing into smooth, weathered planes. The 45-year-old art teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pattom, in Thiruvananthapuram, is an accomplished sculptor who has been working with stone for over 20 years. In the city for an exhibition of his works at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery, he expresses his love for artistic expression in no uncertain terms, “I love to travel and have had many sparks of inspiration during my journeys, which I promptly sketch on the back of a ticket or a sketchbook. Initially I used to work with clay, and then moved on to wood, plaster of Paris and fibreglass before settling on stone. I feel that an artist needs to keep experimenting, and if something becomes too easy to do, we need to move on to other mediums.”

Born in the village of Kappil, near Thiruvananthapuram, Satheesan’s main artistic influences are his early days in the fields and his time spent in Delhi where he pursued his MFA at the Delhi College of Art. Indicating a sandstone and bronze work depicting a young boy riding a bull, he remembers his childhood. He reveals that his earliest ‘works of art’ were attempts to recreate the toys other children in his neighbourhood had using mud from the fields near his home.

Most of Satheesan’s works reflect a creative struggle for artistic freedom from the shackles of society. ‘Silent Yell’ shows a man cupping his hands to his mouth and yelling in desperation as the boat he is seated in fills with water. In a bid to bring some life to the work, the boat is actually filled with water with some fishes swimming inside. ‘Flood’ depicts a man carrying his belongings in a trunk and struggling through chest-high water. “These works are outpourings of my sentiments from when I was in Delhi, when I realised that there is no place for an artist in our society. But there are other things I learnt during those periods of struggle, the kindness of random strangers, the comfort provided by the company of a bird that sits on your windowsill... All these emotions I express through my art. If I do not, I feel like a pressure cooker in need of release,” he says. These lighter emotions are displayed in ‘Together’, which shows many different types of birds riding together on the horns of a yak and ‘Rest’, which is a moment of stillness where a stone worker takes a break with his tools in a rocky enclave.

Despite its tedious nature, Satheesan says his work invigorates him. “It takes a lot of effort, but it is fulfilling. I work from 6 to 10 every morning, part of which involves rubbing the stone with my hands to give it a weathered polish, like the texture seen on the hump of idols of Nandi in temples. I have even taken to building pedestals to display my work on, just to ensure they are strong enough to support the weight and preserve them,” he says. Despite the many trials and tribulations he has faced, his inherent optimism is reflected in his work ‘Lost Territory’ (inspired by O. Henry’s short story, ‘The Last Leaf’) which includes a dried and weathered tree with a solitary bright green leaf standing proud at the top.

Satheesan’s exhibition, ‘Speaking Stones’, is on at the Durbar Hall Art Gallery till December 7.