A new documentary charts late sculptor S Nandagopal’s legacy

The Mythic & the Magical, a retrospective documentary, shows National award-winning sculptor, the late S Nandagopal’s inspirations, influences, and artistic explorations

September 16, 2019 04:48 pm | Updated 04:48 pm IST

S Nandagopal was clear about one thing since his youth — he did not want to add his father, Cholamandal Artists’ Village founder KCS Paniker’s name to his. Firmly rooted in his search for individuality, the implicit pressure that comes with being a stalwart artist’s son was the last thing that could deter him from his artistic explorations.

It has been two years since the metal sculptor’s demise. Envisioning it as a retrospective documentary which chronologically traces his artistic journey, his daughter Pallavi Nandagopal has directed The Mythic & the Magical and produced it with her mother Kala Nandagopal. The production that was screened last weekend at the Crowne Plaza, Adyar, takes one through the inspirations, influences and philosophies of the two-time National award winning sculptor.

Artistic evolution

“Art can only come from art,” says Nandagopal in a video footage of his 2016 talk at Chennai Mathematical Institute. Legends, mythology and his predecessors’ works had a remarkable effect on his process. Two of his inspirations during his initial days were PV Janakiram and Dhanraj Bhagat.

“I felt threatened because my first sculptures looked like Janakiram’s,” Nandagopal confessed. “This led me to discover my own process.” The self-discovery happened with tradition as his springboard. Heavily abstracted mythical beasts ranging from the minute to the monumental are a significant portion of his work. He desired to be Indian in spirit and a world contemporary at the same time, in his own words. “You cannot ignore 4,000 years of history,” he maintained. It wasn’t just the past that impelled him. His association with British Modernist sculptor Sir Anthony Caro was a lifelong dialogue which steered his experiments towards achieving modernity.

His journey in sculpting, spanning half a century, is an illustrious one. In the 1970s, his experiments focused on frontality and linearity. Though much of his early work remained monochrome, his 2014 exhibition, The Metaphysical Edge, a collection of 28 paintings in coloured gold and silver inks, was a departure from his usual medium of copper and brass.

As he was viewed

“The film unravels the journey of an artist, his challenges and struggles and places his contribution in a historical perspective,” Pallavi Nandagopal says about the movie. “An artists’ work is inextricably linked to his life and environment. And my father was nourished by the motivating environment he grew up in, in close proximity to his father and other contemporary artists.”

Corroborating this, Geeta Doctor, who has observed Nandagopal’s work over the years says, “He was a reserved person and it was not easy to engage with him on matters apart from art. He preferred his solitude and his wife Kala was instrumental in letting him be his quiet self.” And to her, this has come through vividly in the film. “The oasis that is the Cholamandal Artists’ Village today came out of the struggles of the artists of the 1970s. And Pallavi has justly portrayed her father as the artist he was.”

To PM Belliappa, who inaugurated the screening, the film stands out in not being an emotional memoir but an objective and unbiased production. “It shows his clarity of thought, starting from not wanting to be overshadowed by his father and going on to chart his own path in the world of metal sculpting.” A close friend of the Nandagopal family, Belliappa’s fondness for the sculptor goes beyond his appreciation for the art alone. “We used to meet every month and the four of us, Nandagopal’s family and me, would chat and gossip over dinner.”

In his 2016 talk at CMI, Nandagopal said “An artist knows whether he really counts when he’s been six feet under for 50 years, and not during his lifetime.” It’s a long way to 50 years but the legacy left by Nandagopal is shimmering bright in the art world.

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