Art

Beguiling simplicity

CHISELLING EMOTIONAL FIGURES: G. Reghu’s work from his ‘Mother and child’ series

CHISELLING EMOTIONAL FIGURES: G. Reghu’s work from his ‘Mother and child’ series  

The philosophical thread of the elusive human spirit runs through the oeuvre of G. Reghu, and the metaphor of ‘body as garment’ is hard to miss

Sculpture for G. Reghu is the embodiment of an idea, a metaphor beyond the physicality of the form itself. Not limited by scale or material, his generic ‘heads series’ in bronze and ceramic are seemingly simple, sublime and sensitive and are monumental in their expressive contours. They, nevertheless, hold deep cultural connections and memories and speak to the human spirit.

At his ongoing exhibition called Sentient Beings: The world of G. Reghu at New Delhi’s Shridharani Gallery hosted by Art Heritage, Monica Agnihotri, a ceramic artist, feels that his work has a fragrance of fresh air and earth and is purely relevant is the context of today’s mounting pollution and degradation. The earthly charm and innocence in his depiction are like a soothing balm to us today. The everydayness of his figures, specially heads, appeal to the viewers and make them feel and introspect . The earthly feel, smile on our lips, kindling charm in our eyes and contemplation lead us to our rural rustic roots where the smell of clay and purity of life are predominant.

Beguiling simplicity

Born in Kerala, at Kilimanoor where Raja Ravi Verma was also born, Reghu recalls, “When I was very small, I used to play with other children at the nearby leprosy hospital ran by Dr. Elizabeth Baker who was deeply influenced by Gandhiji and settled in India. On Deepawali and Christmas, we children were given paper, pencil and colours to draw and paint. She liked my work the most and so I received the art materials throughout the year from her.”

Noble gesture

The Bakers paid for his schooling from class V onwards and gave him a small hut in their hamlet where he lived for four years. After the schooling was over, he was enrolled to a near by college in Trivandrum where he did his BFA in Sculpture . After he returned from college, he used to work with waste wood and then “small carvings” emerged.

And then Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal happened in 1986-87 where in the company of masters like J.Swaminathan and M.F.Husain his life was transformed and catapulted. Since the beginning he was close to the soil and has a deep attachment to earth and everything earthly in nature.

At Bharat Bhavan’s Ceramic Studio, Reghu worked alongside other artists like PR Daroz and Himmat Shah. Surrounded also by the Tribal Art gallery with its displays of expressive works in clay by local artists like Injor Sai from Sarguja, Sehdev Rana, Leemdhar and Bahadur from Bastar, Chhedilal and Ganeshi Bai from Gwalior, the young Reghu felt alive and inspired.

Often discussed as having deep resonances with Brancusi and Himmat Shah, Reghu’s ‘Heads’ are ultimately steeped in the contours of the Indian landscape. Majestic in their bearing, classical in line and form, they reflect the glowing skin and radiant expression of ‘sentient beings’ becoming creations of the pure, undiluted human spirit.

Minimalist approach

What Bharat Bhavan brought to Reghu’s aesthetic expression was restraint in the decorative nature of the medium, a minimal use of texture, form and ornament.

His figures immediately recall the simplicity of central India’s powerful terracotta votive figures. Without using textures or glaze, Reghu allows the clay to narrate an entire story of a life and its emotional memories that are summed up in his sparse compositions of human figures and objects that reveal a gamut of human energy and emotion.

Reghu shows process through traces of the artist’s hand, fired into permanence through the medium of his kiln. He treats the body between space and time – as the intermediary between the immaterial and material world. The vitality of Reghu’s work lies in how perception creates space and meaning and formulates reality.

Take for example the composition of a young courting couple seated on a bench proudly showing affection – the girl with a flower in her hand. The effectiveness of the impact lies in the power of minimalism and sensitivity. In another instance, Reghu creates everyday scenes from small town India – like a couple speeding on a scooter, groups of seated women sharing gossip, and his Mother and Child series. These bring a smile to one’s face in recognition of universal human emotions and experiences.

Through simple and spare means Reghu brings his figures to life, capturing the essence of human existence. These composed groups of Reghu’s figures, stand apart in eternal time, as if at the brink of relating a specific yet everyday occurrence. Reghu’s artistic vision encompasses the impulse and obligation to portray and share humanity’s stories.

“G. Reghu’s work exploits the essential character of clay – the organic earthbound quality of malleability, a soft and seamless form with archaic resonance of prehistoric civilisations. Giving a contemporary sensibility to human history, his whimsical anthropomorphic figures with highly imaginative characteristics, are often dressed in everyday clothing, making them appear as strange beings belonging to another time, and yet to the present,” sums up art critic Kristine Michael.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:28:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/friday-review/article22318103.ece

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