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Sculptor of melodies
National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru is playing host to the exhibition Physical to the Spiritual: Dhanraj Bhagat till May 13. Uma Nair describes the different shades of the artist
Dhanraj Bhagat at 100 years is a journey in the life of an artist and sculptor who was devoted to the act of creating works born from an alchemy of experience and learning. To imagine an artist and a mentor who drew, painted and sculpted with intricate details a host of images from the tapestry of life even as he taught as the head of sculpture at college of Art, Delhi is to be initiated into the life and times of the master Dhanraj Bhagat.
To witness his changeover from a strong narrative pictorial space into a defined yet distinctive sculptural space requires complete rethinking of the formal pattern, as obviously the space illusion of sculpture is determined differently. This centenary celebration is a mapping of a great mind. It presents a dynamic array of styles, techniques and genres — from panoramic landscapes and compositional studies for mythological and spiritual narratives to arresting studies of the human form.
Spiritually, aesthetically, emotionally, creatively and symbolically, the form-colour interactions are as rich as the variations in a symphony, in which one musical phrase interfuses with another, thereby evoking multiple reactions in the individual.
Dhanraj Bhagat presents his audience with a unique perspective of seeing the human body. This understanding represented in his sculptural work prizes structure over realism even as he works at deconstructing the values of art conventions to create his own language in the ways of seeing and sculpting. In many sculptures on view, we are left to discover the relationship between modern and contemporary art styles to form a creative and conceptual niche that exalted the beauty and poise of the human figure both as a realist entity as well as an abstract study that seeked to define new dimensions. Bhagat’s rhythmic, abstract and sensitively sculpted figures preserve traditional subject matter of the human body as well as heightens its potential to explore new boundaries and express eternal evocations. Critic Richard Bartholomew recorded that Bhagat abandoned the sensuous for the spiritual as he traversed a progressive path of evolution.
‘Moving away from the British colonial legacy of academic naturalism, Bhagat was among a number of Indian artists, in particular, who turned to a combination of abstraction and figuration to articulate new ideas in conception and composition. Symbols speak to his larger practice of pitting the artistic language of figuration against the wood’s simplicity. He foregrounded its materiality, coating it with minimal paint varnish and leaving its surfaces visible.’ His sculptures cover a gamut of techniques, the vertical ones replete with pedestals of ingenuity.
(Extracted from Journey from the Physical to the Spiritual: Dhanraj Bhagat. Published by National Gallery of Modern Art, Ministry of Culture, Governmentof India)
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