Beyond the visible

Different Strokes

Beyond the visible

“For over a decade now, Balasubramaniam has continued to challenge and defy our limits of perception, understanding of material, and experience of space,” says Deepak Talwar (of Talwar Gallery), who has been hosting the artist’s solo shows in New York and New Delhi for several years now. “The phenomena created by him reveal the omnipresent but invisible, the strong yet unnoticed, the essential yet overlooked. An encounter with his works reveals not just the world surrounding us but also the self within.”

Today, Alwar Balasubramaniam (more familiar as Bala) is one of the most sought after artists in national and international circuits. The young and unassuming Bangalore-based artist has had an exceptional career so far: His solo shows have been held in Spain, Austria, France, UK, and US besides his home country. His works have in equal measure impressed and intrigued viewers, collectors and critics.

Born in 1971 in Tamil Nadu, Bala’s attempt to join the Govt. College of Art, Chennai, did not materialise easily. “After my schooling I decided to join the Arts College but I didn’t get a seat for two years,” recalled Bala in one of his interviews. “So I decided to work, earn money and support myself so as to be able to paint.”

Bala eventually gained entry into the Arts College and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in 1995. He subsequently studied printmaking at EPW Edinburgh, UK (1997-98) and Universitat fur Angewandte Kunste, Wien, Austria (1998-99).

Though he studied and initially practiced as a printmaker, Bala realised the limitations of the medium of print. “I was not struggling within these limitations. I was simply trying to extend the boundaries.”

In order to bring new perspectives to his artistic career, Bala taught himself to be a sculptor. Thus in his exciting career, he has worked on several mediums employing a variety of materials, including plaster, silkscreen and paper relief. “I like to be called a person who creates art,” he says. “Not merely a painter, printmaker or a sculptor.”

Perception and reality

For a long time, Bala’s work has been characterised by his exploration, perception and depiction of his own body parts.  “That’s how it began — it was an attempt at reducing the gap between my work as an artist, and the life that I live.”

In 2000, art critic Holland Cotter, writing for The New York Times observed how the young artist already had an impressive résumé of international appearances; how in his first New York solo show, the main work was figurative sculpture, all of it cast in fiberglass from the artist’s body and painted plaster white. “It is possible to cite American influences on the sculpture, including the work of George Segal and Robert Gober, though overall the work owes more to the abstract forms and metaphysical spirit of Anish Kapoor. In any case, Balasubramaniam, self-taught as a sculptor, is young, savvy and in the middle of a spurt of growth. It could take him anywhere, but there’s already a lot here.”

Over the years, Bala’s aesthetic has led him to explore the visible through the invisible, and vice versa. His has interestingly and often wittily, investigated the relationship between the seen and the unseen, real and the surreal. Though the works themselves look pretty simple and straightforward, they provide glimpses of a magnificent world where questions of human perception and ways of understanding reality are continually raised.

As one writer observed, there is always an objective, a questioning, and a revelation behind the piece that Bala wants to communicate to the viewer; his talent lies in being able to use art as a medium to draw our attention on scientific, architectural, or aesthetic aspects that surround us in daily life.

Bala himself confesses to have realised that science had more to do with physical existence, and spirituality with invisible existence. “And art is something which is in between.”

Recent works

Bala’s recent body of work, currently on show at Talwar Gallery, Delhi, has an array of enticing exhibits where the viewer is drawn to the variety of objects and intriguing play of objects, shadows, body parts, and installations.

If ‘Kayam’ — a four part installation — is a tantalising wall display of  the artist’s surreally collapsed body, ‘Shadow of a shadow of a shadow’ — a three piece installation takes us through the labyrinths of a sequential and transformational journey of objects and their shadows. 

Among other eye-catching exhibits are ‘Oomph’, a prickly sculpture made of metallic cycle spokes; ‘Energy Field’ an arresting work made of fiberglass, magnet and rust; and ‘Outreach’, which fuses two arms and balances their precarious existence in a quiet corner of the gallery.

‘Link’, perhaps the most striking piece of view, shows a thin string magically suspended against gravity. One end of it is firmly fixed to the wall; the other end with a sharp fishing hook stands in thin air, as it were. In between the hook and the adjoining wall is a slight gap — which makes one wonder how the tight string is stretching itself and managing to defy gravity. 

In that moment of eerie silence with the shadow of the hook softly but dramatically falling on the wall does one realise the possibility of a strong magnet invisibly buried inside the wall which is all the trick is about. 

At that precise moment, one also becomes aware of the strong connection between scientific and the spiritual, and the very essence of Bala’s art.

(Bala’s exhibition continues at Talwar Gallery, Neeti Bagh, New Delhi till
November 21.
)

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