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Magic in metal

If tribal influences permeate the ceramic works of Rajkumar Panwar, his wife Pushpa Devi's bronzes are inspired by life


MATERIALS LIKE bronze, ceramic, terracotta or stone have always remained popular with artists, who have managed to exploit their character to achieve diverse effects. Within this context, the clever juxtaposing of metal with ceramic by Rajkumar Panwar, a Delhi-based artist, strike a distinct note. Rajkumar's works as well as the bronzes sculpted by his wife Pushpa Devi are on show at Apparao Galleries. The works of this artist couple offer an interesting and aesthetic visual fare in terms of not only medium but also theme.

While Rajkumar's works are only portraits with bronze hollow cast heads resting on ceramic bodies, Pushpa Devi's sculptures offer vignettes of everyday life. Pushpa has chosen themes that evoke nostalgia of bygone days when life was simple and uncomplicated, with visions of rickshaw pullers on the city streets, coolies loading their carts with bags of grain or other goods, the familiar shrill of street hawkers selling their ware , the munimji walking with an air of self absorption racking his brains with calculations, and a rainy day when streets flooded with water made it difficult for the common man to wade through. Pushpa Devi has deftly brought these endearing images alive. In many ways, her works remind you of pre-industrial India when a simple lifestyle afforded peace and happiness in contrast to the image of modern India where materialism rules.


If the themes in Pushpa Devi's works create a charming effect by evoking sentiment, then her style endorses this fact fully. Rendered in svelte and attenuated but highly fluid expression, the figures have carriage that bespeak pride and dignity as they go through their daily chores with a smile on the face and head held high. Her works reflect optimism, pragmatism and delight since she does not indulge in soppy sentiment to glorify the concept of labour as one would associate with pre-Independence sculptors such as Roy Chowdhary. As a matter of fact, subtle wit and humour lace her imagery, imparting a timelessness to her works. Enhancing the texture of the forms is the careful and calculated waxy patina applied as finish.

Rajkumar's portraits are elegant and sophisticated. Though the subject is portraiture there is no monotony. His versatility manifests itself through variety in size and deft juxtaposition with ceramic that forms the bust on which the metal heads rest. The characters inflecting his portraits have simplicity and dignity. The artist characteristically titles the turbaned heads with starched moustaches `Wise Men'. In typical Indian tradition, the surfaces are decoratively textured with an eye to create tactile quality and it is here that the artist has subtly played upon metal to add that touch which enhances the majesty of the figures.

The juxtaposing of shiny metal heads with matted ceramic bust lend an aura of restrained and subtle sophistication, further enhanced by the form and style of the faces, which run the gamut from realism to quasi abstraction. The influence of tribal and folk art permeates his works, stamping them with an `Indianness.' The show is on at Apparao Galleries till July 21.

ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT

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