The aesthetic core of ceramic artist Rahul Kumar’s fresh-off-the-wheel artwork, displayed at New Delhi’s gallery Exhibit 360, lies in expressing the obscure with abstract. His 10th solo exhibition of ceramics, The Untold Resides Somewhere, is a labyrinth of emotive, lexical and metaphorical expressions for “preserving the discarded and communicating by not telling”. He says, “Is it not a fact that a song unsung or a letter not posted still resides at some place? Sometimes hidden away at the back of our bookshelves and often deep within our memories? I ask the viewers to engage with the works — to ask themselves what it means to withhold, to assemble the broken, to be introverted, or collect the shards — literally and metaphorically.”
A trained studio potter, Rahul is making a conscious attempt to deviate from his past experiments with clay. His focus now drifts from moulding the perfect earthenware to articulating a narrative sculpted with textured wall mounts, boxes and installations. “I began with leaving my mark by altering a perfectly made pot form. My Masters that I earned on a Fulbright Scholarship equipped me to use the medium to express. I have in the past played with scale: made diminutive scaled works and massive installations. I have used colour and gloss extensively. Over time, I began to use clay and all its tedious processes merely as my tool. What remains at the core of everything I do now is an ability to tell a story,” he shares.
Rahul believes that all good art rides on the sound foundation of craft. But earlier craft and aesthetics took greater importance in his creations. “Now, expressing my idea is more important. Further, I was more interested in creating an experience at the show, rather than merely displaying objects,” he adds.
The exhibit, curated by Roobina Karode and designed by Prima Kurien, displays over 58 artworks, including four installations. In her essay describing Rahul’s works, Roobina writes: “His use of gibberish texts or the melting and dispersing letters/alphabets are a deliberate attempt on trespassing the function of legibility and arriving at an unspeakable script. There is for the artist, a felt exigency to enter realms of the ‘unspeakable’.”
The textual expression seeps into Rahul’s work by the dint of his five-year journalistic journey. He expands on it: “In my role as a journalist, there is no place for ambiguity of the written word. Subconsciously, text crept into my art too. But this time liberated from any ascribed meaning. And this idea fitted well with my exploration of the untold. There are two series that reference text — I have a secret to tell and pages from my diary. ”
The installation, Matrix, at the ongoing exhibition, finds its roots in an experimental work he undertook in 2013/14. One of the most arresting elements at the exhibit are shards and pieces, which sometime crop up in boxes, arranged like torn letters or broken sticks stacked up together in a mesh-like structure.
“I was finishing a work by cutting a slab of clay. The leftover ‘negative’ pieces seemed like an alien script. It caught my attention and I wondered what it was trying to say. That led to a whole series. Similarly, a 2012 show of a contemporary artist where he used squished metal utensils stayed as a visual in my mind to then revisit my 2015 experiment to squish freshly made pots into an introverted space for Matrix. Clay on paper I feel is a unique use of the medium in age from my diary,” he describes.
When it comes to placing ceramic art in the wider scope of commercial art, Rahul feels that ceramists are too wedded to their craft. “That by itself is not a problem, but it is futile to expect ‘contemporary art world’ to embrace it as works of art. Medium never defines art. It is the intensions with which these have been used that determine where it must be classified,” he signs off.
The Untold Resides Somewhere is on view till April 28 at Exhibit 320. Entry’s free.