G R Iranna in New Delhi. Photo: The Punch
Delhi-based artist G R Iranna whose solo show, ‘Ether is All That is, was on at Gallery Espace in New Delhi recently, says it’s ether’s in-betweenness that fascinates him. The 46-year-old artist, who uses ash as his medium to show the impermanence of life, says the universe is a big mystery and his quests to find answers about life and death lead him nowhere.
“We should just create beauty and aesthetics, get joy out of it and not look for answers. We should take life as it is. All you do is just surrender yourself,” he says.
Excerpts from an interview:
THE PUNCH: Tell us something about your new show, “Ether is All That is.”
G R IRANNA: In this exhibition, ash is highlighted. I have been fascinated with ash for many years. It is something that is both form and formless. It’s a part of life cycle. The Upanishads, too, have references to ash. I just tried to burn the Upanishad codes because it’s like rebirth. The consciousness remains: even if you burn it, you do not burn everything.
I like to have two contrasting elements in my work. This is particularly evident in this show. That’s why I call it “Ether is All That is”. Ether is something very light which you can see and can’t see, hold and can’t hold. It is its in-betweenness that fascinated me because it works like your thought. When you are working on a painting, choosing a particular space or colour, sometime you choose, sometime you don’t choose. Sometimes, what you choose becomes something else. It’s connected to our consciousness. It’s important how one assembles things. One dot or line can change the whole canvas. Instead of using ash, if I use gold powder, it will completely change the idea. This is how important material is. I like to play with materials and form.
THE PUNCH: From conflict and war and peace to the larger aspects of human conditions, there is a lot that finds their way into your work.
G R IRANNA: When I was in college, I used to go to historical places with great landscapes. I’m from Bijapur, a historical place. I used to do landscapes and I never went to these places as a tourist. For me, it was a study tour: there was research, thinking and reasoning. At the Bijapur monument, I kept asking questions. Hampi, for example, is surrounded by the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. There, one kept questioning oneself: What led to the empire’s power and position, bloodshed in wars there?
Violence has always been linked to power. Life and death are absolute realities. As humans, we are made of mud. The choice of ash for this show is my attempt to find a link here. Fifteen years back, my works focused on how man is made of flesh and bones. This journey has been building up. I do get affected by what is happening in the society. My mind keeps asking questions about ourselves and that inspires my work. Whatever happens on the socio-political front finds its way to my work. Artists react through their works.
THE PUNCH: What do your quests to find answers lead you to? Do you seek to find answers?
G R IRANNA: Nothing can give me an answer. Today, I see a flower. It’s beautiful. It’s a fact. But I’m not sure whether it will remain so tomorrow. Where is the conclusion? Who can guarantee tomorrow? You keep a flower on a dead body and you keep the same flower on the head of Buddha. Flower is the same, but the meaning changes.
THE PUNCH: In your hands, ether becomes ethereal.
G R IRANNA: The word ethereal defines all my works. Sometimes, it’s difficult to explain art. Everybody has the freedom to interpret an artwork in his/her own way and that is the beauty of a work of art.
Some six years back, I made a very realistic donkey at the India Art Fair. The donkey was lying. The security guard became sad that the donkey was tortured. I didn’t tell him that I was the artist and I was enjoying that reaction. I’m no one to have a say. My works are the witnesses of the everyday.
THE PUNCH: What is your idea of form?
G R IRANNA: For me, human figure is a form. An object is a form. Even a line is a form. The human figure is a bit direct. If you remove the human figure, it becomes abstract. It becomes deeper and mysterious. Mystery is at the core of the subject. Mystery always leads to questions. The colour of the flower is a mystery, sound is mystery. Art also has the transformative power. One painting can change your life. If somebody is changed after looking at my work, I’ll be really happy. I have had people who have walked up to me to say that they learnt through my paintings. I myself learn every day. You never know what hits you as you keep observing.
THE PUNCH: Tell us something about your creative process, from the germination of an idea to its execution.
G R IRANNA: While working on an artwork, one is constantly changing, constructing, destroying and making. When I work, I’m completely in my own world. It’s like meditation. It’s the most beautiful experience. My consciousness guides me: it’s my guru.
When an idea strikes me, I write or draw to remember. It is usually around then that I have a working title too which I note down in my phone.
THE PUNCH: Tell us something about the materials you use.
G R IRANNA: When you are searching for something new, you also look for new material. You need new materials for new ideas. Some of the materials I have used include Gandhi’s charkha and sadhu’s khadao (wooden sandals). Materials play a big role. In your journey, you find exciting things. For example, I stumbled upon tarpaulin in Old Delhi and started using it in my works.
THE PUNCH: Name some artists you like.
G R IRANNA: I like Gaitonde, Himmat Shah, Atul Dodiya, Sudarshan Shetty and Sheela Gowda.
THE PUNCH: How conscious are you of your work?
G R IRANNA: First of all, I don’t see myself as an artist. If I started blocking myself, I’ll not be open: Then, I will start looking at things the way they are and not what they are. It’s important to approach things with a clean slate.
THE PUNCH: How important is it to know where we come from and what we become?
G R IRANNA: I question myself at least once or twice everyday: who am I? I’m not able to get any answer. We should just create beauty and aesthetics, get joy out of it and not look for answers. We should take life as it is. I have already tried quite a lot and I have realised that you don’t get the answers. The universe is a big mystery. You are a part of it. All you do is just surrender yourself.
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