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Images in transition

TUCKED AWAY in a far corner of the sprawling Hill Palace complex a bunch of sculptors are engaged in laborious work, seriously chiselling away at their individual stone blocks that show little possibility to relent. The granite is sizeable but the master craftsmen, each aided by an assistant are equally persistent; the continuous pounding of their hammer and chisel can be heard even before the artists can be spotted in the thick, verdant surroundings. There is much bonhomie and camaraderie in the pristine setting as some of the artists are batch mates from colleges of fine arts while others have met briefly in the course of a shared profession.

The National Granite Sculptors' Camp, 2003, gives them enough opportunity to meet around a symposium that interests them, and communicate techniques and sensibilities so vital to their vocation. Most of the eleven artists are experienced in granite sculpturing; some like Rajasekharan Nair have spent years training in this medium. None of them are intimidated by the size of the stone block though Mr. Nair points out that typically his finished piece would measure 1.5 feet as against a seven foot tree that he contemplates at this camp. What he makes at Cholamandal Artists Village, Chennai, is meant for indoors whereas camps such as these allow him to craft for outdoor landscapes.

Stone is a suitable medium for outdoors as it can withstand the elements, which give it durability and a sense of timelessness. As the granite gets hammered and chipped it reveals contrasting streaks of black and white, a textured pattern that the artist eagerly exploits. This distinction animates the cross-section of sculptors who look at their resources with varying ideologies.

"Every medium has its inherent limitations which an artist can harness to his own advantage," says A P Sunil Kumar. But for Mr. Nair it is truly the image that determines the medium. "Granite offers you a prospect to evoke a solid expression." Its surface can be smoothened to such a degree that it lends an air of refinement, or it can be reduced to a matt, a rough, half rough or simply raw finish as the image may demand. For M K Johnson, the challenge is to pummel the mass to such an extent that it brings about an extraordinary flexibility. Similarly, Alex Mathew hopes to confer a tenderness, an airiness to the stone when he is finished and done with. Against this backdrop of motivation each of these men are trying to discover themselves.

"The restricted time frame of ten days is not sufficient to plan a meticulous, detailed figurative art," says P P Ravi, himself a teacher at the college of fine arts, Thrissur. It is better to plan an abstract presentation, he says as he beats the surface to create a striking blunt-edged pattern.

The camp has been organised by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, which has been making serious efforts over the last year to revive the public's interest in art. "This is no art show, nor a display of works done earlier, but a live performance under the full arc lights of public gaze," reads the invitation.

The camp that got underway on April 25 closes on May 4.


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