Acrylics, watercolours, oils or something else, irrespective of the medium, artists are known to bring colours in our monotonous lives. Artists play with different mediums and colours along with their imagination, which in turn, fill our lives with joy. While some artists use pigment, others use paper, clothe or clay, each brings a smile on our face and thoughts in our minds.
The world of art needs no introduction to G. Subramanian. Well known for his adorable collages, Subramanian breaths life in his portraits with bright magazine papers. For many years, he has been creating collages of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and young girls, who in particular are his muse. But as Dallas Clayton said, ‘It’s never too late to start something new, to do all those things that you’ve been longing to do,’ Subramanian started to explore a new art form; sculptures, something he wanted to do for a long time.
Convergence of Collages and Sculptures
Subramanian’s interaction with sculptures began when as a little boy he would visit the Ayyanar Temple in his hometown; Thandavankulam. Life-sized terracotta horse sculptures guard the temple on either side. At first, he was both scared and fascinated by these sculptures, which were much larger to his childhood self. However, the same sculptures inspired him as he grew up. Subramanian recollects that at his First Year, he recreated a similar horse sculpture for his college project, with the help of his professor Mr. Vidhyashankar Sahapathy. Next year, Subramanian made a bullock-cart out of clay. Unlike many other sculptors, his sculptures were flat. Looking at his artistic style, his college principal; Mr. Dhanapal advised him to look up the Swiss artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Mr. Dhanapal who himself was a sculptor, could draw parallels between Subramanian’s flat sculptures and those of Giacometti’s.
Keeping his career in focus, Subramanian graduated in commercial arts and pursued a lucrative career in advertising. Though he continued making vibrant collages in his leisure time, to participate and win many national and international competitions, owing to a busy schedule, his interest in sculptures was sidelined. He was awarded an 18 day Europe trip for winning the Saudia Malwan Gold medal. He utilised this opportunity to explore many prominent European artists such as Henry Moore, Van Gogh, Alexander Calder and Picasso. This changed his perspective on art.
Remembering his Europe visit, the artist mentions that he liked many sculptures, especially for Picasso, Subramanian admired his sculptures more than his paintings. He was enamoured by Henry Moore’s semi-abstract artwork and Michelangelo’s renaissance paintings and sculptures.
Between advertising and collages, though sculptures were out of his life, they were never out of his mind. Somewhere deep down in his heart, he always wanted to give them another try. When asked about his new venture the artist explains, “I like challenges, I like to explore new things. I have been making collages professionally for the past 15 years and I believed it was time for me to start something new. Sculpture was one thing that
was always on my mind. I always wanted to give it a try and thought what better time than to start now.”
Dreams Taking A Physical Shape
In 2018, Subramanian attended an art camp in New Delhi, where he met P. Gnana, a multifaceted artist from Singapore and Arvind, an artisan from Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu. Gnana paints semi-abstract portraits and makes stunning mixed media sculptures. He was impressed with Subramanian’s collages and suggested that they would make perfect subjects for sculptures. This encouraged Subramanian to realise his longtime dream of making sculptures.
Subramanian makes his sculptures in Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu. Here the artisans still follow the traditional ‘Lost Wax Method’ from Chola dynasty, to make these adorable sculptures. At the beginning of the process, a wax model is prepared. As the wax model dries, Subramanian creates the basic structure of his sculpture with white clay. Another layer of clay and sand is coated on the existing one and it is left to dry in sun for 2-3 days. Once the last layer of clay dries, this mould is set on fire to melt the wax inside and simultaneously molten metal is poured into the mould from a vent. This vent also helps release the liquid wax and gases from the mould. The hot mould prevents sudden cooling and breakage of the casting. The casting is then left to cool for 12-24 hours. Once the sculpture is removed from the mould, Subramanian adds textures to it by smoothing or chiselling it, adding different details such as the ornaments and clothes to his subject by engraving in them and polishing them out.
Talking about this process of sculpting, the artist says, “I feel like a 66-year-old child. I was extremely excited when I first visited Swamimalai to make my sculptures. Seeing my sculptures take form right in front of my eyes, I jumped with joy like a little boy. Just the thought of seeing my longtime dream taking physical shape kept me awake the whole night. The feeling was absolutely divine, I don’t have words to express it.”
For years, Subramanian has worked with colours, be it in the advertising industry or with his collages. His art was always vibrant and joyful. Explaining the impact of monochromatic bronze on his colourful art, he chuckled and said, “This was something even I wondered for a long time. I love colours and always enjoyed adding different tones to my art. I thought about different ways in which I can add colour to my bronze sculptures. However, the more I learnt about bronze and sculpting the more I realised the biggest advantage of metal; unlike paper, bronze doesn’t perish, it lasts forever. Besides, I can also vary the process of making the sculpture and add different textures to it. I can leave some parts smooth and add a variety of textures such as dots or lines to other parts of it, this way my collages and sculptures can resemble each other.”
Artistic Style and Muse
Subramanian’s art is simple and uncomplicated. One look at his collages and sculptures brings a huge smile on the onlooker’s faces. Talking about the inspiration behind his art form, the artist remembers learning from young children. He recollects how his young students kept their images simple and innocent just like themselves. Their perception of everything is exact and to the point. He said, “If you ask a child to draw a lemon, they would make a circle and colour it yellow, they won’t think about the raw green pedicel or the overripe dark spots.”
He further elaborates that he likes the simplicity of Picasso’s Cubist art form. He believes much like his young students’ art, Cubism is simple, precise and to the point. The geometric shapes and whimsical structures of Picasso’s art impressed him the most. “My art; collage and sculpture both are deeply inspired by the cubist art form,” the artist adds.
Talking about his muse, the young girls, the artist remembers his daughter Surya, who he lost to cancer when she was 8 years old. She is always on his mind. Surya was Subramanian’s inspiration for his young girls subject. He is always happy thinking about his daughter as his subject. His art is a beautiful ode to Surya, through which he preserves her memories. “This way, I am always with her and she is always with me,” says Subramanian.
“Gradually, I have started observing more about young girls. I have a granddaughter who I see doing different things such as playing on the phone, reading a book or riding a tricycle and those postures inspire me to make more of these sculptures. In future, I would like to try sculptures with these movements.”
Elaborating about the difference between collages and sculptures the Subramanian says that collages are 2-dimensional whereas sculptures are 3-dimensional. When thinking of a collage, his focus is restricted on what is in the front of the image, the subject’s smile, her eyes, her expressions, what she is wearing. In case of a sculpture, the artist has to think about the subject as a whole. He imagines about the girls’s back, how her hair, her jewellery and her skirt would look from all the different angles. The various dimensions give a new dimension to the artist’s thinking and perspective towards art.
Future Endeavours and Shows
Explaining the main motivation behind his art, Subramanian says, “I want to touch as many people with art as possible. The main reason why I create is because I want to bring joy to people’s life. People always tell me, ‘Subra, your collages make us happy,’ hearing this makes me happy.”
Explaining about his future endeavours, Subramanian tells that he would like to explore more in sculptures. A few years ago, he experimented with making sculptures out of scrap material. Though he never intended to sell this sculpture, he was overjoyed with the whole process. This sparked his interest in making more sculptures. He would love to experiment more with this scrap medium along with his existing artworks.
The artist is very excited in preparing for his first sculpture show at The Tagore Center, Cultural Wing of Embassy of India, Berlin, Germany. Subramanian says, “I am not worried about the success or failure of this new venture, I’m just happy to be a part of it, I’m enjoying the process. I just wanted to see the dream that I had in my mind for all these years, take a physical form.”
Later this year, Subramanian will be showcasing his sculptures and collages along with P. Gnana, in numerous cities in India, Singapore, Malaysia and Europe.