As you walk on the kuccha, water-splashed roads of the village, you see a small boy squatting and playing marbles. Further down, two brats try to hop with the gunny bag ahead of their participation in school games. To join them in the play from the opposite direction comes another lad clad in loose half-shorts, who balances a cane basket on his head, hopping from one stone to another.
For a moment, you are lost in the typical scene of the times before the 1980s. Gentle cough from behind brings you back to the large hall of Sir Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. You realise that the innocent rural and children’s world is a world created by Mumbai-based bronze sculptor Ajinkya Chaulkar.
A knowing smile on the French-bearded man with his salt-and-pepper hair makes you smile sheepishly. And to the unasked question of how he got the expression so aptly, the artist replies, “I grew up in a small Konkan village close to Mumbai and played all these games. And I feel that even in today’s world with modern games, one doesn’t forget the pleasure of childhood games. The present-day urban kids too would love these games if they had space to play them.”
Chaulkar’s figures speak to us. There is no complication in understanding the innocence of childhood, the serenity of a pious monk, or the earnestness of the village woman carrying coconuts on her shoulders. They are so simple, yet so beautiful.
Chaulkar's intricary in work lies in the way he displays his hold over human figures. So, most of his sculptures are bare-bodied waist above, and in the female forms, though clad in sari and blouse, the torso is bare and shows the well-sculpted figures. They are not swathed in yards of clothes or surrounded by pretentious paraphernalia.
"I have to communicate through my carvings. Irrespective of what the figure is, it has to speak to the viewer. It should have a soul. If I make my sculptures look exotic and opulent, they won’t be able to hold a dialogue with the viewers. So, whether I am carving an idol of a child, woman, man or historic figures like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Jijamata, Rani Kittur Chennamma, Saint Basaveshwara or a political figures like V K Patil and others, they have to look real,” explains the artist as he takes us around his studio located in the western suburbs, Malad, in Mumbai.
The studio is like any potter’s studio — spacious and open so that the fire from the kiln gets free air, and scattered are all the things that a potter’s studio should have. A large bhatti (kiln) is getting prepared to prepare the casts. Chaulkar says making idols is in his genes. “I belong to a kumbhar family. My father and grandfather used to make Ganapathi idols. We still make them during the festival. In fact, in this part of the suburb, my studio is known as Chaulkar’s Ganapathi karkhana!” he says.
He recalls that it was his father who wanted him to get a degree in arts and so enrolled him in the famous JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, where he studied sculpture and modelling and later, even taught the subject for a year or two. “Now my son is studying the same subject there!”
Keeping it real
And in the early stages of his career, like many other artists, he too dabbled in abstract art forms. But in the end, it was realistic art that wooed him. He says, as a student he was inspired by the works of legendary artists like Henry Moore from the UK, known for semi-abstract bronze sculptures; the famous renaissance painter, sculpture Michelangelo, and a few others. Back home, he is a big fan of shilpakar V P Karmarkar, best known for his statues of Shivaji Maharaj.
In fact, when in 1995, Chaulkar got his first break to sculpt a big statue of Chatrapati Shivaji, which is still in New Mumbai (far flung suburb of Mumbai), he was thrilled and accepted the project as his ode to his idol Karmarkar.
“Once that statute got appreciated, I never looked back. I started getting orders from all over the country to sculpt many saints’ and leaders’s statutes. I still get them. But that is the professional work I take to sustain my passion or art. When I hold the exhibitions of my work, I plan a theme and let my creativity and observations mould my work. That keeps my hunger for creativity alive,” signs off Ajinkya Chaulkar.