Quoting Picasso, the ceramist and painter-turned sculptor S. Nandagopal tells me that an artist should be thinking about his art all the time. Nandagopal who turns 70 this year, has put on a solo show to, The Metaphysical Edge of Sculpture, at Art Alive gallery in Delhi, to mark his solo show.
Following in the footsteps of Picasso, Nandagopal works for seven hours a day even at this age.“It is not easy being a sculptor,” he says. “I stand for seven hours a day and do my work but I feel satisfied when I do that. I have a long way to go.”
Describing the process of making a sculpture to me, he says, “I use the process of brazing while making an art piece, which is a metal-joining process in which two or more metal items are attached together. Firstly, I draw on a box board and bend it to understand the thickness . I then transfer it on to copper or brass and heat it, bend it, till one metal is tacked onto another.”
Interestingly, the artist who got the National Award at the age of 23 for sculpting, has a degree in physics too. He gave up being an engineer to pursue his passion in art. “I found I was inclined towards art,” he says. “My father is a big inspiration behind it. He told me to pursue my passion. He said it is a tough life being an artist but if you make your decision once don’t look back or regret it. Since that day, I have never doubted what my career was to be.”
Nandagopal easily transforms ancient Indian iconography and gives it a modern touch. He doesn’t so much copy the tradition as taking references from it. For example, his beautiful sculpture of Hanuman sitting on his tail. It was made by Nandagopal after he’d heard the mythological story of Hanuman’s visit to Ravana’s palace. Primary colours, mainly red and green, have been used on this metal sculpture, with the surface also seeming tanned at places. Besides, the colour white is also used to give the piece its distinctive tone. Nandagopal doesn’t use religious iconography strictly but draws from the same. His approach towards his art, although relying heavily on the tradition and myth, is quite modern in outlook. For his large sculptures, the artist doesn’t prefer using colour at all.
Following in the footsteps of his hero Picasso, Nandagopal works for seven hours a day even at this age.“It is not easy being a sculptor,” he says. “I stand for seven hours a day and do my work but I feel satisfied when I do that. I have a long way to go.”
“It is very important to know our past,” says Nandagopal. “Knowing our past, the current techniques used in contemporary time and current scenario in art helps us formulate fresh perspectives and designs in art.” He explains it with an example: “A scientist won’t be able to go ahead with any invention if he doesn’t know what has been done in a particular field in the past. It’s important to know and understand history to go ahead with one’s work.”
There is also an element of frontality and linearity in the artist’s work, which is one of the defining characterstics of the Madras Art Movement started by his father, the renowned painter K.C.S. Panicker. The frontal aspect does not make you curious as to what lies at the back. The artist puts holes in some of his pieces to reinforce the illusion that there’s only a void at the back of his sculptures. Though contemporary in form, Nandagopal often uses traditional techniques to create his sculptures like enamelling, engraving and silver-plating.
Talking about his experience in Cholamandal, an artists’ community put together by his father, Nandagopal says, “This artists’ village is a place where artists can work unhindered all the time. You can work in pure solitude there. It is not necessary to interact there with people. Cholamandal is an excellent place for artists to grow. You can be with yourself and practice your art. No one will disturb you. It is time we understand that art is a lonely job.”
Did he doubt his ability when he began as a young artist? “Yes, I was scared that people will compare my paintings to those of my father. But when sculpting entered my life and I won the National Award for the same, God seemed to hear my prayers as I had by now entered another field where there would be no comparisons between me and my father,” Nandagopal says, chuckling.
Nandagopal has a piece of advice for people who want to change their career. He says, “Don’t look for quick results and have patience. It is rare that success comes early. One should be ready to keep working hard. When I wanted to change my career, my father had told me do what you love and if you choose art, remember it should be your passion. There should be no regrets. You should be second to none.”
An exhibition of Nandagopal’s sculptures is on at Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery till 3o April.