Of daily realities

Different strokes

Of daily realities
“Iranna shows us the human truth of our times, shows us how far man has fallen,” writes American art critic and historian Donald Kuspit while observing visions of protest, social commentary, detached beauty, and tranquil sacredness in the Delhi-based artist’s creations. 

Coming from a modest background, G R Iranna (born 1970) is today a well-known name in the Indian art scene. His works depict various viewpoints ranging from the ideal to the existentialist, and have featured in solo shows in Delhi, Mumbai, London, Singapore and New York, besides a number of group exhibitions in the country and outside. 

One of the few artists in the subcontinent to use paint on tarpaulin, Iranna was one of the three winners of Juror’s Choice awards of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation ‘Signature Art Prize’ (2008) for his work titled ‘Wounded Tools’.

In 2008, his large diptych titled ‘Lesson for Blindness’ (2007/ mixed media on tarpaulin / 52.0 x 132.5 inch) was auctioned for Rs 72 lakh by Saffronart against a high estimate of Rs 22 lakh. Another tarpaulin painting, ‘The Retired King’ (2006 / 51.5 x 132 inch), got sold for Rs 28.6 lakh in the same auction.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with Iranna on his life and artistic journey: 

On his childhood

I come from a humble rural background, born and raised in a farming household in Sindgi village, Bijapur district. I spent almost seven years of my childhood in a gurukul where the emphasis was on harnessing traditional practices and humanistic values. It helped me realise and respect dignity of labour from an early age, and also seek answers to perennial questions like who am I, where have I come from, where am I headed, and so on. 

On his journey into the world of art

Even as a child, I would make my own toys and figurines using clay and other available material. I was also good in drawing in school. Later, I joined the Art College in Gulbarga not out of any considered choice but because, given the family condition, there was no question of taking expensive courses like engineering or medicine. After finishing BFA in Gulbarga, I came to Delhi and did my Masters in painting. Delhi also taught me many things about art and life. The new urban experience with all its complex moods and explicit lifestyle was far removed from the simple life in my village. It was here that I was able to develop a personal visual vocabulary based on human condition and behaviour.

On his first gallery show

When I joined the art college, the whole intention was to get qualified and become an art teacher in a government school! I never thought of becoming a full-time artist; that was beyond my wildest dream. It was only after my first show in Jehangir art gallery, Mumbai (almost 20 years ago) that I started thinking otherwise. Over the years, my works have been exhibited in several prestigious galleries in India and abroad. But even today I cannot forget the thrill of the Jehangir show where an unknown German visitor walked in, looked intently at the paintings, and bought three of them right away!

On his developing motifs and ideas for his work

Let me give an example. When I left my hometown and travelled to Delhi as a young man, all I had with me was a simple metal trunk. It had everything necessary for my frugal day-to-day living. Years later, I used the motif in one of my major sculptural installations titled ‘Peace and Pieces’ (2009), which showed a sleeping Buddha on a bed of metal trunks!

Memory, nostalgia, spirituality and philosophical enquiry — all these help me develop my imagery. I always wonder how certain things get formed but still remain elusive. Like a shadow — we see it, but we cannot seize it. I also love watching this group of tailor birds from my balcony. Every year they build a new nest. Who taught these tiny birds to construct such beautiful and intricate nests year after year, I wonder!

So, there is mystery and magic in living. The challenge is to convert these personal experiences as authentic imageries. One can depict man in a physical form, but how to show his inner feelings in a painting or a sculpture? These are my concerns and anxieties. 
When you sit in front of an empty canvas, every moment becomes a struggle. You know that the ground below the feet is fragile and slippery, yet this is the same ground on which your life has to move on and survive!

On his works subtly layered with violence

It is true because I see violence everywhere; both at a physical level and a deeper, psychological level. There is aggression and brutality in the name of development, progress, God and things like that. And the first victim or target is the innocent, harmless and defenceless; it could be man or animal or nature itself. When you see a tree being cut, something happens to you, within you. When you see an accident on the road, there is a churning in your stomach. So, in my work I try to dissect these aspects, sometimes juxtaposing one with the other.

On his major influences

My own surroundings and experiences with daily life are the primary drivers of my work. Every day brings with it a new element, event, surprise, mystery and thrill. Even a minor news item can trigger something big — and become a serious artwork… But if you want me to name a single individual who has had a profound influence on my life and thinking, it is Pandit Mallikarjun Mansoor. I have studied his life-story and cannot stop marvelling how this simple human being could reach such glorious heights in a highly competitive field as classical music, and yet retain his balance, innocence and composure.  Every time I listen to his music, I get enormously inspired. For me, Mansoor is the ultimate role model.
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