Colours of alchemy

metallic magic

Colours of alchemy

His black, blue-green and ochre metal sculptures are overwhelming, and they virtually forge their ambience. He sculpts female bull-tamers with flowing hair, swaying clothes and toned muscles that throb with power, caught at the instant of stillness that occurs just before the gathered energy is released; the instant that the human eye is too slow to catch. He zeroes in on the piercing action sequences of the martial arts kalari, featuring female warriors.

He fashions village drummers who beat the thappu in exhilaration and abandon; the divine Krishna immersed in his own music — sitting on boulders; standing gracefully on inordinately large lotus leaves; bulls and cows beaming benevolence and majesty; bullock carts; the exotic Nagalingam flowers; and panchabootham (the five primordial elements).

These sculptures indicate the pitch and the tempo of artist P Elanchezhiyan’s narratives, the emotionally charged forms that are rooted in tradition, and that soar with imagination. The 36-year-old sculptor brings to the fore the aesthetics, the spirituality and the raw energy of rural life. Man, animal and nature come alive in utter non-self-consciousness, a quality that perhaps exists only in rural pockets now. “Every sculpture that I create is an expression of my belief, not just an artistic foray,” Elanchezhiyan says.

Tale within tales

Do female bull-tamers exist? “In bullrings, it may be the men who tame the raring bulls and the women who watch this coyly. But the women of village have true power over the bulls as they rear them (and cows) like beloved family members. I have seen fierce-looking bulls follow their female keepers docilely. That was the inspiration,” he explains.
In his eyes, nature and divinity are not far removed. Since he is no stranger to farming, having worked in his father’s rice fields as a boy, his mind has been etched indelibly by the visuals of activities of cows and bulls, including their postures.

He especially reveres cows, knowing that they sustain the fertility of fields; he likes gender equality almost as much, which is why there are female bull-tamers and kalari
warriors.

Every stance or gesture of his women protagonists projects liberation, assurance and drive. He sees the taming of bulls or the combating warriors as being as much about taming one’s own ego and arrogance at one level, and the whimsical shackles that patriarchy imposes, at another level.

So the veera vilayattu (game of valour) of jallikattu (bull taming) and the por kalai (martial arts) of kalari have become a symbol of intellectual prowess, drive and conquest in his hands. This makes for a potent mix.

In the same mould as his jallikattu and kalari works is his Krishna series, in which the lord is seated on boulders, while his music mesmerises the cowherds. But taking a different tone virtually (or a different hue actually) are the newer works in the series — the blue-green sculptures show a tiny Krishna playing his flute, sitting lightly on the edge of a huge lotus leaf, dangling his legs casually. These stylised works on Krishna bring out a tenderness, something only a child would evoke. These are in contrast to the dynamic and powerful resonance evoked by his kalari and jallikattu works, which had come to define him earlier.

Lately, Elanchezhiyan has taken to embellishing scripts (drawn from classical literature) on the surface of his sculptures. This young man seems to celebrate tradition and modernity through his art at one go.

Where it began...

Elanchezhiyan’s life began in the small Alathambadi village located near Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam district — the land that nurtured the Chola bronzes. Born to an agriculturist father, who is also a school teacher, he was encouraged by his family to pursue art. He completed BFA and MFA in Sculpture at the Government College of Fine Arts, Kumbakonam. He followed this up with MPhil in Sculpture from Tamil University, Thanjavur (2009-2010).

The eldest of 3

children, Elanchezhiyan says, “My mother has been a huge influence, while my father has been a guide.” His parents never feared or opposed a career in arts for their eldest son.
Though he now lives in and works from his studio at Panayur, just outside Chennai, he has never really left his village behind.

At his studio, the sculptor relies on the technique of sand-casting for sculpturing. But how does he arrive at the vivid shades seen on the metal?

Post casting, he cleans and coats the metal with acid for an hour or more, to clear away any impurities. The acid reacts with the metal to render different shades. Much of this happens without planning, so, many of the hues are happy accidents — like the brown seen on his Jumping Bull, born when he unintentionally left sodium sulphate on the cast for several hours, because he forgot to wipe it off.

Another noticeable fact about his sculptures is they sport an antiquated look, in contrast to the shiny finish seen on temple idols. As he uses dewaxing techniques, the resulting texture is alluring, and highlights the sculptures’ details.

The volume of his artistic output continues to be massive, even though each one of his sculptures involves a lot of work done over a long period of time.

Mention this and he adds, “Today, it’s easy to create a bronze sculpture. Bronze is now available as nuggets. One can just melt it and cast it. The Chola stapathis (sculptors) of yesteryear had devoted several years to make a single piece, as they created alloys and even added gold to it, if they fancied.”

Elanchezhiyan’s biggest sculpture is the Avan Indri Anuvaum Asaiyadhu, currently showcased at Delhi. It portrays the 5 elements of nature — earth, fire, wind, water and ether — and aims to convey that without shakti, nothing moves. He used up 6 months to create it. “We have always been nature worshippers. Mariamman, the female goddess we revere, is a rain goddess, Agni Veeran is the god of fire,  and so on.” he explains.

No wonder, Elanchezhiyan is an alluring draw to art lovers across the world. In fact, he is one of the few Indian sculptors who have exhibited at London’s Gallery Cork (2007), as well as at Singapore’s Guyana Art Gallery (2007) and Madras Canvas (2010), Malaysia.

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