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Icons are his obsession

Was it Blake who said "exuberance is beautiful''? Sculptor Ravinder Reddy's life-size figures and voluminous heads seem to bear out this dictum. His icons are fixed with a burning gaze, a motif that defines the erotic nature of nearly all Indian art.

Reddy seems to take inspiration from the popular visual culture of the urban bazaar. Heads, like enormous balloons, are liberated from the constraints of scale through the medium of light polyester-resin fibreglass. The figure type---having large, wide-open eyes, pursed lips and rolling flesh - provide him with a frame on which to mount a lavish display of visual excesses heightened by the figures gold leaf skin. His thick coats of shiny oil paint represent cheap lipsticks, plastic bands, gold-plated earrings, ribbons and scarves sold in village festivals while his audacious, nude figures evoke the earthy humour of the folk theatre.

A soft-spoken and affable person, Reddy, who is professor in the Andhra University Fine Arts Department, says that during his studies at an art school, he developed a feeling for organic forms. ''Exposure to various cultures --- Asian, Egyptian, Mayan and Greek--- made a strong impression on me in terms of monumentality, strong form, frontality and overpowering presence. Open sexual sensuality in folk art forms also made a deep impression on me. I incorporate these things in my work drawing inspiration from the surroundings. My life force is women as they are the source of growth and life.''

This sculptor, who has gained wide recognition in the art world--- his work `Devi' was featured in the `New York Times'--- creates gorgeous, overwhelming figures. Works like `Krishnaveni', `Woman from Kapulapadu', `Head with choli', `Woman on charpoy' and `Under the tree' are both audacious and exuberant.

Over-life size, richly coloured and covered with gold leaf, sensuous and sensual and staring unblinkingly, his figures have a power that is extremely attractive and, at the same time, repellent. His work was also exhibited at the Andy Warhol Museum in the US last September.

Historically, the 1990s saw the rise of a new representational tendency towards the iconic among young sculptors in India, mostly trained from the art schools of Trivandrum and Baroda. It is said Reddy made a dramatic rupture with modernist conventions and offered a retake on classical Indian traditions.

As Geeta Kapur, the noted art critic, says in her book `When was modernism': With amazing figural skills, these sculptors began to redefine contemporary sculpture in terms of a theatric ensemble of modelled, cast (from clay to plaster and fibreglass), painted and frontally posed figures in a somewhat kitsch and parodic mood. Reddy has found a way of further monumentalising the iconic form in classical Indian sculpture, making the gilded icon a voluptuous object of contemporary delight.

Reddy's sculpture then is essentially about seduction, ornament, gigantism, iconicity, repetition and fetish. Explaining his work, he says: "I wish primarily to re-experience images perceived in everyday life. Adding and subtracting lumps of clay and building up volume enables me, through close physical contact, to grasp the image in sculptural form. Later, I define this image more precisely in paint. I choose fibreglass as a medium because it acts as a neutral material."

V. S. Krishna

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