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Driving the point home

Musings in colour

Musings in colour  

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Artist G.R.Iranna goes back in time to tell us why his mid-career retrospective had to happen in his home state

Far away from the frenzy of India Art Fair in Delhi, artist G.R. Iranna had his mid-career retrospective “And the first shall be the last” at NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) Bengaluru. It was a co-incidence, said Iranna, who last showed in his home state in 2003.

Iranna was born and brought up in Sindagi, in Karnataka. Growing up as a farmer’s son in Bijapur and then pursuing bachelors in fine arts from Gulbarga, Iranna, now an established artist based in Delhi, keenly observed his surroundings.

Virshaiva saints of the Lingayat sect, the ruins of Hampi, the cave temples of Badami and the quaint countryside of Sindagi laid a strong foundation for him personally and professionally. So then, taking stock of his artistic career nearly after two decades, in his native state seemed most logical.

“If you achieve anything who do you first share your happiness with? Family. That is what it is. I have strong ties with Karnataka. My family is still there in Sindagi. You know, about 400 people turned up for the opening of the show. All my friends, teachers and students of art came from Raichur, Gulbarga, Mysore and Tumkur,” says the artist.

In this show of seven large sculptural installations and 22 paintings, the oldest are his landscapes that date back to his college time.

“I used to travel to these places alone. Twenty five years ago, there were no hotels in Hampi or Badami. I had this junoon (passion). I would sleep in the gram panchayat offices. So this show is like my journey. A lot of students who had come for the show could relate to it,” he recollects.

Curated by Ranjit Hoskote, the show takes note of Iranna’s formative years in Karnataka but at the same time examines his artistic practice within the context of contemporary Indian art.

The recurring figures - monks, symbols of Gandhian philosophy, blindfolded figures, donkey - in his canvases and sculptural installations, bear connection with his early life.

At the gurukul Iranna studied in Sindagi, he learnt the biggest lessons of life - humility and surrender.

“I learnt the importance of cultural values and how unless I don’t surrender to the canvas or a painting I am making, it won’t be good enough. I can’t be bigger than the painting I make. I can’t possess any ego,” says the artist who works with wood, fibreglass and bronze for his sculptural pieces.

In “Dead Smile”, Iranna shows nude figures squatting, their faces covered with a black cloth. “Wounded tools” has a donkey carrying a saddle bag which is loaded with tools. “They are tools of carpenters, farmers, gardeners. The tools are wounded, they are helpless so I have bandaged them.”

In yet another commentary of the times, Iranna shows the charkha - one of Mahatma Gandhi’s most powerful tools advocating self-reliance - set on a hospital bed. It is trying to breathe but can’t.

These easily identifiable symbols get the message across quickly, feels the artist.

To inaugurate the show, Iranna got 103 year-old Saalumarada Thimakka, the green crusader, who grew 284 banyan trees on a four km highway in Karnataka. “Saalumarada” means row of trees in Kannada. “What a life, no? Her whole life is a work of art...just creativity and hard-work,” Iranna muses.

While he agrees, he was away from Delhi, where all the action was taking place, he said people who matter came here. Senior artist Anjolie Ela Menon came, so did well-known contemporary dancer Astad Deboo. Iranna informs us that Astad wanted to do a performance and it is not difficult to see why. His dynamic figures and the element of theatre can easily move you.

“This element of theatre came in by watching and performing in Yakshagana plays. But when I moved to Delhi, every evening I went to Mandi House and watched plays, music concerts and that helped me. If Karnataka made me strong technically, my evolution took place in Delhi.”

(The show, being held in collaboration with The Guild Art Gallery, is on at NGMA, Bengaluru, till February 16)

Iranna facts

* G.R. Iranna, one of the major contemporary artists in India was born in Sindgi, Bijapur.

* He did his bachelors in visual arts from College of Visual Arts, Kalaburagi.

* He later did his masters from Delhi College of Art. He had his first solo in 1995 at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. He was awarded a Charles Wallace scholarship in London.

* His last show “Tempered Branches” was held at Aicon Gallery, New York in 2013.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 11:02:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/driving-the-point-home/article8188411.ece

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