Profile of the Sculptor - Mrinal Ghosh
One hand grips the other. The grip is firm. The bondage continues when the third hand grips the fourth. A cycle is thus formed. Visibly or apparently the gripping or conjugation of the pair of hands ends with these set of four or five. But in the aesthetic level the flow is endless. An incessant movement in cycle continues. The rhythm rises up and comes down to rise up again. The grips of the hands create curves with angular edges. The floating planes formed above them act as counterpoints. At the center of this revolving movement there is a void. A circular negative space is formed. In spite of the void the space is not empty. It contains the infinite in it. Contains the eternity of the sky, which is in other way a tranquil vastness. Space is thus converted into spacelessness, which is again a form of eternity. This eternity is ‘peace’.
This is how the sculptor Niranjan Pradhan defines ‘Peace’. We have just come across this bronze sculpture in the cover of this album. It is not the simple task of building up of a symbolic unification of various continents or countries of the world or expression of intimacy of various people from different walks of life that has made the work so unique, but the devising of this space, which appears to be a non-space or absence of space, impregnated with such a tranquil eternity is what has made it so noble. There is a constant dialogue between the three-dimensional revolving space and central spacelessness or void. The volume merges into the void and vice-versa. This is the crux of the art of sculpture, to create space out of volume, very similar to the mode of music, where sound creates omnipotent silence. Pradhan’s sculpture in this sense is musical.
Extracting the abstract out of the very much worldly real Nianjan Pradhan has made a very important mark in the modernity of Indian sculpture. His works are deeply attached to the reality of the flowing life and socio-temporal reality around him. But that is, though no doubt a very important aspect, is only a primary feature. The life gets transformed and unfolds its inner essence through lyrical rhythm. Conversion of reality into the rhythmic music of an abstract nature, as we have already seen, is the essence of his creativity.
A wooden piece of 1984 titled ‘Whirlwind’ to be seen in this collection may be cited as another example. Whirling movement of a different nature is observed here. The invisible wind in its fluttering movement gets a body. Non-space of the intangible reality is represented in a unique form of tangible space or volume. But by achieving this tangibility it again slips into the intangible, into an abstract idea of the beauty of the fluttering wind. The wind is in actuality very much real. The ‘whirlwind’ is more so. It carries in it a potential or possibility of a destructive force. The ‘form’ of Pradhan depicts this turbulence. But at the same time brings out a sublime beauty. This shifting between the opposing poles, turbulence to sublimity, violence to silence, space to non-space and vice-versa and out of this constant shift or mobility extracting of a third entity different from the defined nature of the above polarities is what he tries to achieve. Detecting and enjoying this undefined in the form of a sonorous stillness is a great reward for the spectators of his works.
Niranjan Pradhan appeared in the world of his creativity during the 1960-s and came to lime light during the decade of 1970-s. Trained both in painting (1964) and sculpture (1967) from Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata, he preferred sculpture as the principal medium of his expression, and very soon made his appearance stable in the pan-Indian field of sculptural activities. He is now one of the very important figures among the second generation of modern Indian sculptors. It is well known, modernity in Indian sculpture ushered with the works of Ramkinkar at Santiniketan during the middle of the decade of 1930-s. The first generation of modernists like Ramkinkar and his contemporaries Prodosh Dasgupta, Chintamoni Kar, Shankha Chowdhury et. al. faced a critical challenge in building up a mode of modernity of international standard containing in it a unique indigenous identity. In an environment of Indian reality of the 1940-s devastated with world wars, famines, communal strife and fractured freedom, both painters and sculptors had to search for new idioms of modernity. The painters rejected the stereotypes of the so-called neo-Indian school. The sculptors had no such set norms in the perspective of their activities. They had to build up their path a-fresh by assimilating the rich tradition of Indian classical or traditional sculpture with the formalistic devices of western modernity. The result of this synthesis is what we now see in the works of the above sculptors. Within this synthesis the sculptor like Meera Mukherjee stressed much on the indigenous sources to achieve a unique form rooted both in Indian traditional and popular visual wisdom and sonorous sensibilities of Indian classical music.
The second generation of sculptors, of whom Niranjan Pradhan has proved himself to be one very promising since the decade of 1960-s, took their cue from this synthesis of tradition and modernity designed by their predecessors of the first generation. Most of them were trained under the first generation of sculptors. Niranjan too got his initial training in sculpture under Chintamoni Kar, who was the principal of Government College of Art when he was a student there. Gradually the forms of the second generation developed. They accepted the western modernistic idioms and assimilated them with their local ethos, both aesthetic and socio-temporal. Pradhan’s ‘forms’ developed out of this synthesis.
He was born in 1940 within the green moistened and watery atmosphere of Sundarbans of Bengal and passed first eight years of his childhood there. Then he was shifted to the harmonious rural environment of Midnapur and lived there till his early youth, before coming to the urban and modern environment of Kolkata and getting admitted in Government College of Art and Craft. This gradual shift from rural to urban, which was also a kind of transformation of the local into the global in his sensibility, had very positive and conspicuous imprint in his creativity. The greens of vegetation, the murmuring flow of river water, the turbulent waves of the sea, the bright exuberance of sunlight all around, the endless flow of myths ubiquitously emanated from the submerged folk consciousness have created for him a rich store house of imagery. On the base-ground of his consciousness formed by the above-mentioned flow of collective unconscious grew the super-structure of his creativity.
The prints of his sculptures collected in this album constantly show this shift from sonorous, docile, flowing harmonic character of rural presence to the vigorous, violent, angular turbulence of the urban impersonality. Look at the terracotta piece of 1978 titled ‘Mother and Child’. Despite the sharp geometry of the merging planes in the construction, the young mother contains all the sonorous charms of the eternal motherhood of Bengal while she takes the small child in her arms and caresses him with her flowing love. Compare with it the bronze piece of 2004 titled ‘Fighting’. The two fighting animals emanate violence not only in their expression but also in their formalistic construction containing the violent curves merging in sharp geometrical contours. The constructed geometry is the characteristic of both the above sculptures. But from the first to the second one the character of the geometry has changed from lyrical to turbulent, from simple rural towards a complex urban one, from localized to a global sensibility. This shift is the essence of his works. Not only in form, this shift is noticeable in his entire mode of expression and total world outlook. We feel tempted to look at two other pieces side by side. One is ‘Snake Charmer’, a bronze piece of 1990. The other is also a bronze piece but made more than a decade later, in 2001, titled ‘Love, Freedom and Peace’. The ‘Snake Charmer’ contains the lyrical beauty of a mysterious nature contained in the flowing folk sensibility of Bengal. In ‘Love, Freedom and Peace’ the elongated, emaciated but divinely expressive body of a seated lady burst into an ecstatic joy, while the birds fly fluttering around her opening up a vast space comparable to the boundless sky. The charm of the ‘local’ is resurrected here into an eternal beauty of the ‘global’ harmony. In this greatness and sublimity the sculptures of Niranjan Pradhan have made their place in cotemporary Indian modernity.
There is another kind of gradual transformation of his ‘form’. Looking chronologically it can be noticed, his ‘forms’ have changed from impersonal and to some extend abstracted geometricality to a very personal warmth of lyrical idealistic imagery entering deeper into the sonorous traditional environment. The geometry, the curves, volumes, distribution of positive and negative spaces had their own charms in his earlier pieces. Crossing these luxurious formal attires the spectators had to enter into the inner being of their beauty. Now, in his later works the geometry merges into the totality of expression exuding a very simple and divine existence of the subject depicted. The wooden pieces ‘Nayaka’ of 1971, ‘Repose’ of 1974 or ‘Black Princess’ of 1978 of this collection may be cited as examples of his earlier trends of dominance of geometry. But the bronze ‘Waiting’ of 2000 presents a different expression. The elongated, emaciated body of the seated lady, no doubt, contains all the charms of formal geometry, but surpasses this formalism towards a simple and divine beauty. Similar is the case with the bronze pieces ‘Playing with Her Hair’ of 2003, ‘Sweet Feeling’ or ‘New Feelings’ of 2004. Here he shows another kind of shift, from western modernistic formalism to an indigenous traditional harmony. Arriving at this new expression, the sculptor appears to be very original in devising a modernistic mode, unique in its indigenous sensibilities.
He works in all the mediums, both additive and subtractive, clay, bronze, concrete, wood, stone etc. His great skill in naturalistic portrait sculpture has earned him international fame. The double life size bronze bust and full figure statue of Raja Ramohan Roy installed at Bristol, U.K. in 1985 and 1997 respectively are important landmark in his artistic carrier. The large bronze statue of the celebrated film star Uttam Kumar, the great poet Michael Madhusudan Datta, the 18 feet high bronze statue of Shahid Rao Tula Ram on horse back installed at New Delhi, double life size portrait sculpture of Sri Aurobinda installed at Sri Aurobinda Institute of Culture, Kolkata and many other such naturalistic works are the examples of his mastery over the medium Above all these the 11.5 ft. high bronze statue of Satyajit Roy to be installed at Roop kala Kendra of Salt Lake City of Kolkata is to be recognized as a landmark of his creativity.
The skill and artistry of such naturalistic delineation is transformed into the compact structure of his compositional creative sculptures. There, as we have already seen, the multifarious viewpoints of life and reality have been very adroitly expressed in a unique formal structure. After a slow but steady sojourn of nearly four decades, Niranjan Pradhan has made substantial contribution in modern Indian sculpture, which his works presented in this album very gracefully projects.