Radhakrishnan: A Retrospective

  • Srimati Lal
  • India
  • Mar 29, 2013



K.S Radhakrishnan has established a reputation as one of India’s foremost sculptors, with his concepts firmly-rooted in high Indian tradition, while expressing an entirely new contemporary vision. Gurgaon’s Art Pilgrim Gallery in Sushantlok is currently hosting a Retrospective, until mid-April, of over 25 of Radhakrishnan’s finest bronze sculptures, in a wide range of sizes – from over 10 feet in height to miniatures of 15 inches length. Unified by the recurring presence of the Sculptor’s twin Muses -- the female Maiya and the male Musui -- this inspired and energising body of work embodies a certain whimsicality, lightness of spirit—a joi de vivre—rarely found in large-scale bronze works. Ethereal as well as earthy, these distinctly-textured bronze sculptures seem to take flight and dance

Born in Kerala in 1956, ‘Radha’, as he is known in art circles, studied Art at Santiniketan’s Kala Bhavana. The deeply-inspired ‘Rabindrik’ tradition of Lasya and Rasa enlivens his unique oeuvre with a certain spontaneous poetry. Radha has exhibited widely at such venues as France’s Center des Bonds des Marne, Espace Michel Simon, Salon Sculpture Contemporaine, Cotignac and Hippodrome d’e Longchamp, and India’s Lalit Kala Akademi, Birla Academy, National Exhibition and Triennale India. A confirmed Francophile, like most Bengali artists, Radha prefers showcasing his works in the aesthetically-evolved ambience of France – although he has also exhibited in London, Denmark and Hong Kong. Radha’s most powerful influence is the masterful artist Ramkinker Baij, a Santiniketan pioneer, on whom Satyajit Ray made his classic documentary, The Inner Eye. 

Art scholar Prof. R. Sivakumar, Head of the Art Department in Santiniketan, describes Radha’s stylistic as follows: “His work is at once both intimate and universal in its appeal. A personal form of commemorative sculpture, it contains a presence and scale that holds well in natural settings and public spaces. Radhakrishnan aims to re-charge age-old figurative bronze casting with a new sensibility and with considerable aplomb, steering clear of brinkmanship.”   Art Pilgrim’s Geeta Singh, who has a personal collection of this sculptor’s works, has been a longtime admirer of his style. In her words, “Radhakrishnan’s sculptural flair and grace have always appealed to me; I am proud to present his body of notable sculptures to Gurgaonites.”

Rather than dabble amorphously in ‘new’ materials, with fad-like ‘installatory’ concepts that imitate the western ethos, Radha has expressed a singleminded devotion to the authentic ancient Indian ‘lost wax’ Bronze process and Indian Figuration. This places him within a timeless historicity of sculptural legacies, while also stretching the language towards whimsicality – moving away from ‘classical’ ponderousness towards more spontaneous gaeity and humour. Radha’s metier is certainly more Romantic than Classical, his stylistic verging towards the Indian Folk idiom rather than the Eurocentric Renaissance aesthetic. In this current Retrospective, Radha’s Muses, Maiya and Musui, are his alter-ego, as playful protagonists in life’s drama. At times they seem to fly airborne in effortless gymnastic mudras, even riding piggy-back (on one another) in their Ardhanarishwara dance; and at other times they carry symbolic ‘burdens’, such as metaphorical boats, trees and nests, upon their agile, earthy heads and arms. From my art-historical standpoint, the strongest influence in these works is that of Bastar’s most ancient Dhokra Tribal metal sculptures. Their playful flamboyance, exaggerated linear patterns, group-formations, and the smiling visages of their protagonists, are undoubtedly distinct to this remarkable Indian Folk-idiom. 

There is a depth and magic nuance to all of Radha’s creations, that cannot be accurately discerned in photographic images: they can only be experienced, by observing these sculptures out in the open, in the natural light. Ideally, a very wide range of Radha’s pieces should be arranged together in the open air, allowing their unique drama to come alive. These tilting, swaying, dancing primaeval human forms would then seem to move before one’s gaze, in symphonic cadences; along side the tangled branches and webs of Prakriti, that shimmer musically in a cerebral dance of their own. 

Radha’s human torsos are minimised and stylised to their essential bone-structure, and stretched lyrically into acrobatic action. One may sense a certain repetitiveness of this ‘gymnastic-acrobatic’ stance when the pieces are viewed individually; and yet, when several sculptures are viewed in tandem, their remarkable Nritya-mudras mesmerise the gaze. Life’s eternal flow comes alive in their quirky swirls, climbs and stretches. This body of work could well be described as ‘The Dance Of Life’, expressing amazing movement – with the breath of Spring’s breezes flowing effortlessly through their Mudras. Their inspiration is clearly derived from the playful lightness of the ancient Dhokra form, as well as from some of India’s most ancient sculptures – from Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. This latter inspiration stands-out most strikingly in Radhakrishnan’s standing female Muse, curiously titled ‘Maiya as Graduate’. The stance of this striking lifesized woman immediately evokes the stylised, elongated torso of India’s classic  Harappa Woman, with one arm akimbo on her waist, and her arms bedecked with tribal bangles. In this case, the smiling tribal ‘graduate’ Maiya is holding a ‘tablet’ --- which could be either a prehistoric slate or a millennial I-Pad ! I asked Radhakrishnan what he intended to evoke here, and he stated that a slate, a piece of paper, and an I-pad are all really one and the same – signifying an equal intention of all beings, across time, to keep learning.

Elaborating on his work and beliefs, Radha says, “I feel like a very daring sailor now, after spending many years rowing in small rivers. I had started by making combinations of small human figures that I called ‘Fireflies’, as if in a play. My last show in Kochi was called ‘Everything Flows.’ I use a lot of metaphors from myth, folklore and childhood memories. To express these, my protagonists, Maiya and Musui, ‘become’ various personalities. A sense of watching, and being watched, has always enthralled me. My notion of Time is an ever-renewing flow, and my sense of Space, too, is not bound by physicality. My sculptures thus assume a Symbolic, dream-like nature.” 

Another aspect that struck me in Radha’s immortal visualisations is the enigmatic smile on the faces of his protagonists. This smile embodies the life-force in an evolved state: one that sees and feels Life as an entrancing ‘Mayar Khela’,  or ‘Play of Illusion’, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore. I think Radha’s ‘Vision of Flights into the Light’, crafted in bronze, can best be understood through some relevant lines
of Rabindranath: 

‘Jatri ami, parbey na keu amay rakhte dhorey; Dukkho-sukher bandhon shobi michhey; bandha ei ghor roybe kothay pichey ~’  

‘I am a wanderer; I am forever a traveller – no one can ever tie me down. All these earthly ties of joy and sorrow are  false; all these buildings
of the earth shall be left far,
far behind.’ ~


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