It is an unbelievable con,” exclaimed an awestruck visitor. To which the artist said: “You must visit again before the show closes on December 27.” K.S. Radhakrishnan, one of India’s accomplished sculptors, seems to celebrate his work every time a visitor walks up to him to inquire about his “gravity-defying” sculptures in bronze.
“Standing in front of the sculptures, I want you to experience the lightness of mind,” says Radhakrishnan, sitting under a tree right across the coffee shop at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bengaluru. “We all feel heavy. But inside we are all like Musui or Maiya [part alter egos of the sculptor and part fictional characters], light, free and in conversation with the changing world.”
At 59, Radhakrishnan is at a crucial point in his artistic journey. His solo exhibition titled 'Mapping with Figures: The Evolving Art of KS Radhakrishnan' in Bengaluru takes the visitors through his sculptural journey of the past 15 years.
“Musui is the young Santhal boy Radhakrishnan met in Santiniketan, and Maiya, a metaphor from his imagination,” says Prof R. Siva Kumar, art historian and curator of the exhibition. “The focus is on humanness and not gender or identities. With Musui-Maiya sculptures, the artist gives up the idea of each sculpture being an independent art object, and embraces seriality and narration. The figures are too light and nimble to be real.”
Through his works, Radhakrishnan reminisces about his days in Santiniketan, about the time he took up commissioned work, about emerging out of stereotypes and about self-discovery through metaphors drawn out of his imagination even as he pays tribute to his mentors Prof Sarbari Roy Choudhury and Ramkinkar Baij, both eminent sculptors.
Radhakrishnan, however, talks about a different kind of influence—ordinary people and their lives. “My earlier work had tiny figures. People from smaller towns and villages, including myself, migrating to the cities, exploring new spaces, defining human struggle sustained by sheer hope,” he says. “These ordinary people gave us a place in their neighbourhood when regular colonies would not open up to eccentric and noisy sculptors.”
'The Human Box' series reflects on the small homes of ordinary people. 'Liminal Figures Liminal Spaces', on the other hand, has an ascending ramp with tiny figures. Large figures pop up every now and then, vaulting and moving forward only to face a wall. The wall signifies the unknown.
Dabbling with different media, first as a painter and then as a sculptor, Radhakrishnan finally settled for bronze. It may seem ironic that a heavy alloy like bronze has been used to depict a state of lightness, but Radhakrishnan doesn't see any contradictions. “Bronze is a strong alloy. Some of my works weigh as much as 5,000 kilos. But they are airborne—thrown in air, floating in space—and no other metal or alloy could have given me this,” he says. “The visual and material balance comes from craftsmanship. But limitations of the material should not result in a compromise on expression. The message becomes more visible with the strength of the material.”
Originally from Kottayam in Kerala, Radhakrishnan found his calling in Santiniketan. However, he feels that it is time that he gave something back to his hometown. So, he has decided to donate a set of three monumental sculptures titled 'Bahuroopi' to it.
A master of outdoor sculptures, Radhakrishnan picked the tricks from Baij. “Open-air sculptures find their way into museums, galleries or rich men’s houses. I started thinking about reaching out to people and public spaces,” says Radhakrishnan, who is working on a sculpture to be installed at the promenade on the river Mandovi at Panjim in Goa.