heads and tales

Ravinder Reddy’s trademark sculptures are omnipresent. No group show, gallery collection or museum repertoire is complete without one of his fibreglass creations painted in bright colours, says Poonam Goel

A typical day for Ravinder Reddy starts at 9 am in his studio, located at a walking distance from his home in Hyderabad. The celebrated sculptor likes to work in daylight, almost every day, till dusk, but gives equal importance to leisure time spent in travelling and meeting friends. Naturally, then, for over three decades now, Reddy has found – and continues to find – inspiration in his immediate surroundings.

‘Heads and Bodies, Icons and Idols’, an exhibition held recently in Bengaluru, was Reddy’s first solo show in a decade. It showcased influences and explorations during the early, intermediate and recent phases of his work. Some path-breaking works in the show included Girl with Umbrella and the terracotta work Akshatyoni, the latter symbolising a point of transformation in his practice, when he began to focus on the heads of women.

Reddy hails from an agricultural family of Suryapet in Andhra Pradesh (now in Telangana). “I realised as early as 1974 that painting gave me happiness, even though my parents wanted me to take up medicine or engineering and remained worried for my future all the time,” reminisces the artist. The lack of support from family was amply made up for, when he joined an art college in Hyderabad. Artist Dakoji Devraj was influentialin guiding and advising him to pursue arts at The Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda. “While in Hyderabad, I was only aware of painting and never dabbled in sculpture. It was at MSU that I was exposed to sculpture as an art form. I realised by my second year there that my fingers were better at handling clay than a paint brush.

Soon, clay became my medium of choice because of its physical and tactile aspects,” he shares. Another teacher, professor Krishna Chhatpar, was instrumental in making him aware of form, volume, texture and sensitivity towards one’s own surroundings. And it was under his guidance that Reddy began to explore his ideas through sculpture.

Even though the artist chose the lessercelebrated medium in the 1980s, he did not blindly follow the prevailing styles that aped the British academia or European artists. He looked at his own roots and found that the Indian tradition of depicting female figures ppealed to him the most. “I made my first life-size clay sculpture in 1980,” he recalls.

In the 1990s, from full-bodied figures Reddy moved on to sculpting heads, a signature style that has elevated him to the legions of top Indian contemporary artists. He recalls that heads, especially African Benin bronzes and terracotta heads, had always fascinated him. He chose, however, to focus on the heads of women, because he could “embellish them much more than a male head – long hair, ornaments, clips and flowers”.

While creating heads has been a constant for Reddy, he has chosen to explore several other media. In the late 1970s, while the rest of the art world was consumed with the more commonly-used materials of bronze, wood, steel, stone and cement, Reddy aspired for a new material. He turned to industrial polyester resin fibreglass, which could take any shape or form and had no colour or inbuilt aesthetics. “I am basically a modeller, and casting in a durable material such as fibreglass was the first choice. I had the liberty to add colour to my sculpture too. I love turning an ugly, unaesthetic industrial material into an aesthetic object of art,” he says.

Reddy believes that he is a positive person and that this temperament reflects in his colour palette, which is bright and colourful. “Most of us are colourful by birth, so why shy away? I see hope in darkness. I represent the true Indian spirit – a country filled with vibrant colours. I see celebration all around, and the choice of colours is significant for me.”

The author is an art enthusiast and the views expressed in this article are her own

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