Friday, August 5, 2011

Visually Captivating

Chinthala Jagadish
By Savitha Hira
“Tradition is not a worn-out topic; its reading will differ from individuals, from generation to generation; and it calls for fresh exposition from time to time”. These words by renowned artist Prof. K. G. Subramanyan lend an insight into the world of Chintala Jagadish, the phenomenonal artist who has unequivocally bridged the gap between traditional and contemporary; between fine art and craft with his unique papier-mâché sculptures.

With a background that was seeped in economic uncertainties, but with a fanatical judgment for the aesthetically resplendent, Chinthala qualified as a fine artist specialising first in painting and later with a post graduation in mural design. This gave him the distinct advantage of visualising in 2D as well as 3D.

papier-mâché masks
“It was a simple incident that gave me my initial boost”, informs Chinthala. “During my bad economic days, when I was working with Doordarshan (it was the only television channel available), I was asked to create a series of animal puppets for a childrens’ show. Since the medium I used was papier-mâché, the puppets would be light and easily handled by the children.  Cost effectiveness of the project was also an important consideration. So I created a range of 12 animal puppets and painted them in my characteristic happy colours – they were a huge success and I went on to perfecting my skills with other sculptures in papier-mâché”. Of course, the rest as they say is history. Chinthala Jagadish went on to win government grants and scholarships that led him to a residency in US, apart from world-wide recognition as his works of art began to be featured and archived amongst prominent collections in renowned galleries and museums around the world.

A close observation of Chinthala’s early works depicts the artist’s preoccupation with his immediate surroundings and cultural leanings. But this could be considered as a natural progression for the young boy who was creative, sensitive to his background and social status and braved innovation by creating with newspaper and glue, when his contemporaries were showcasing their skills through metal sculptures.  Chinthala would pick everyday situations and people as his subjects and mould them with the eye of a keen observer. Employing narrative and a vibrant palette as his mode of expression, his sculptures (masks, some busts and sometimes life-size figures) would focus on decoding human behaviour and revealing the nuances of human nature and its foibles. “While all seems still, there seems a distinct hum of movement in the air as if his life size sculptures are privy to our conversation”, says Bina Sarkar Ellias in her book on the artist when she talks about her meetings with him at his studio. So life-like were his creations.

From early subjects that were bespoke of his region (Telangana) and culture came more general-format expressions where attire, stance and visage showed influences of cross-cultural leanings and socio-economic growth. The artist began to use his everyday interactions as impressions for his creativity. Gradually, he outgrew his early sentimentality  and matured into narrating observations and experiences. So, whether he was making a series of expressive masks, or lively figures, his sculptures were characteristic conversation pieces with meaningful social commentary. Till date, Chinthala sustains the intrinsic curiosity that shapes his work and makes one want to take note of something deeper than the pretty overt appearance.  His sculptures depict a languorous vocabulary of temperate insight, wit and whimsy while his narrative is imbued with a quality of silent-speech.

Of late, the artist has begun exploring aluminium and bronze as his mediums of creation but the maquette is still prepared in papier-mâché. “This transition has been primarily effected because it is easier to make editions with metal as the shrinkage involved is less as compared to papier-mâché, which is a difficult medium for editions”, informs Chinthala. He generally makes three artist proofs plus thirteen editions of selected pieces – the acceptable international norm for limited edition sculptures. All the pieces in the edition are said to be 99% identical and are individually endorsed by the artist. 
papier-mâché sculptures

Although papier-mâché is a very creative medium, it is still unexplored; the multitude is ignorant of its potential. “While craft is a form that is based on skill alone, passed on from one generation to another, working with papier-mâché is categorically an art as it involves not only skill to mould the material but immense creativity to shape it into a sustained vocabulary”, he says.  Inspired by India’s folk sculpture tradition and folk techniques, Chinthala’s work endorses papier-mâché as a medium with a strong link between observation and interpretation.

First published in January 2010 issue of Home Review magazine 

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