At 68, master of mixed media takes to sculpting

February 27th, 2008 - 9:41 am ICT by admin  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) M. Sivanesan, one of the country’s best mixed media artists known for his slightly abstract compositions of faces, figures and poses in the last 40 years, is charting a new course. “At 68, I am finally growing as an artist, expanding my horizons to sculpture after 40 years,” Sivanesan told IANS in an interview here.

For the first time, the Delhi-based artist exhibited four of his sculptures in an exhibition in the capital this week along with a large body of works executed over the last five years.

His sculptures, mostly organic, are a medley of faces and forms made of regular potters’ clay, china clay and stainless steel. Sivanesan calls his “solid figures his latest form of self-expression that has a tangible feel”.

“I have been sculpting for some years, but this time I felt that I was ready to show my work to people,” the artist said.

He is an unlikely celebrity. Simple, talkative and down-to-earth. Born in Chennai in 1940 and trained in the Madras Government College of Art & Crafts, Sivanesan came to Delhi after a solo show in Chennai in 1963.

Since then he has displayed his works across in the country and abroad. “New York is my favourite city and I love America,” laughs Sivanesan, an avid traveller. The country has hosted several shows of the artist’s works.

His list of solo and group shows is formidable and his list of admirers almost legendary, including late prime minister Indira Gandhi and former president R. Venkataraman.

But Sivanesan’s artistic career is not the usual elitist art school graduate story, unlike most artists of his time. For a man who stoutly believes in the power of art as a potential investment tool and money-spinner, the journey to make it big in the country’s art canvas came across two big obstacles: language and lack of patronage in his initial years.

That is perhaps the reason why he supports art as big-time business. “When an artist has to earn his bread off his brush strokes, then investment in art makes sense,” he laughs.

“I defied my parents to study art. They wanted me to do something else. I remember admitting myself to the Madras School of Art in secret,” he says.

Soon after graduating, Sivanesan landed in Delhi. “It was strange. Here was a total stranger in northern India armed with nothing but his felicity with colours,” recalls the artist.

From the New Delhi railway station, he went to Kumar’s Art Gallery, one of the oldest galleries in the capital; and clamoured for work. “The owner, Birender Kumar, gave me a place to stay in his own apartment where I spent three winters. I worked round the clock and sold all my paintings to make enough money for a place of my own,” says the artist with pride.

His first home was a ‘barsati’, a rooftop shack in Delhi’s Sundarnagar Market. Sivanesan now works out of three studios across the country. His struggle has shaped his works.

“I had little idea about north India initially. The process of adjustment was difficult. The landscape was also strange,” the artist says. Everything that he saw crept into his frames.

Consequently, his early works reflected the “power of bullocks, camels and power of the north Indian cattle and the countryside” which he toured with a friend as a pillion rider on an old rickety two-wheeler.

But his favourite subject has been people. The artist claims that he chooses to paint figures not only to capture the beauty of the subjects, but their moods as well.

“Basically, I am a figurative artist and the treatment of the figures and techniques I apply sets my work apart from the rest,” he says. The people he paints are moody and temperamental and he “has to find the right brush-strokes” to match their moods.

This surreal play of light, colours and human forms are reflected in his later works.

The man, who is lovingly called “Simple Simon” by old friends, is a pucca “northerner” now. “I speak perfect Hindi and some of my closest friends, also my bulk buyers, are of Punjabi descent,” Sivanesan laughs.

But he has not forgotten Chennai from where he culls most of his abstract themes now.

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