Online Magazine
Artist Profile2
An artist who challenges and explores the limits of perception
A skilled sculptor, painter and printmaker, all rolled in one - this multi-faceted practitioner often crosses the fine boundary between art, perception and real life through his work. He is known to experiment with a wide range of materials (fiberglass, gold, wax etc) to construct pieces that reveal his deep artistic concerns and his intense search process. Often very tactile, at times very physical, his work symbolizes an intense exploration of questions like what really defines the self and what confines us? The idea is to visualize how light and shadow can shape our view of the world around.

The Bangalore-based Alwar Balasubramaniam in his constant quest for the unconventional has been casting works using his own body and placing himself literally between the art and the viewer, negotiating the skin as an edge where one’s own individual physical self ends and everything else begins. Employing the cast from his hands, he materializes a form that exists only when the hands are clasped and ceases to exist when they are opened. However, by casting that space he has allowed us to view something which would not be visible directly. This casting method also enables the interior (between the hands) to become the exterior.

Among the three names nominated for the 2010-11 prestigious Skoda Art Award, who stand for the new wave of talent in contemporary Indian art, he is one of the most innovative and talented contemporary Indian artists. His diverse body of work looks to draw attention to the overlooked, bring to fore the invisible, and express the inexpressible. Girish Sahaney, head of the prize selection advisory committee, had stated, “He has not got his due, since he is not one of those more prolific and visible artists. His work is not that easy to appreciate.” The New York Times critic Holland Cotter a few years ago had mentioned of him as ‘a young, savvy and in the middle of a spurt of growth. ‘It could take him anywhere, but there’s already a lot here,” he added. And the prophecy has been proven to be true…

For more than a decade now, he has assiduously kept challenging our notions; also pushing our pre-set limits of understanding and perception of material as well as experience of space. His suave sculptural forms unlock pointed philosophical questions as one sees the light quietly pass over them. His engagement with the medium is rather recent. Quite inventive with his sculptural works, he switched to sculpture from printmaking for the first decade of his art career because he felt imprisoned. The moment one uses one’s knowledge to form boundaries, one finds oneself imprisoned, he reasons. To him, a medium is just a tool to convey an underlying idea. He quips: “If I think something works as a medium, I shall learn exactly how to work with it.”

The talented artist completed his Bachelor’s in fine arts from Chennai’s Government College of Arts, in 1995. Later, he studied printmaking at EPW Edinburgh, and further honed his skills at the Universitat fur Angewandte Kunste in Wien, Austria. His works have been exhibited worldwide, including The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (2011); MoMA, New York, NY (2010); Guggenheim Museum, NY (2010); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2008); Essl Museum, Austria (2009); 1st Singapore Biennale (2006); École des Beaux Arts, Paris (2005) and more recently at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra in Australia. He received the Charles Wallace India Trust Arts Fellowship Award (1997), and was awarded the Sanskriti Award for Excellence in Visual Arts in 2006. Invited as a faculty in the Art Department at Cornell University, NY in 2008, he served as an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire in 1999.

His thought-provoking works seemingly draw from various schools of philosophy. Questions regarding the self and the whole, for instance, arise from the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. ‘The very moment I do articulate something, and the moment I sculpt it… its existence is real… or is it not’, he wants to know. His latest solo at Delhi-based Talwar Gallery is primarily comprised of sculptural installations in continuation of his pursuit to bring to form the formless, in the process, making the viewer realize the potential of the hidden. A conceptual premise forms the core of his new series, entitled ‘Nothing from My Hands’, proclaims, “Our respect for material reality is more than that for the non material and non visible, we think of nothing as negative. I’m attempting here to show even nothing is something beautiful.”

A bewildering body of metal sculptures is created with an intricate lattice construction of lines, flowing gracefully with no apparent endings or beginnings, where the form merges onto itself, where there is no clear demarcation between the inside and outside, the self and the other, where both exists together as one. For the metalworks in it, he has employed cycle spokes (they are flexible and can withstand tension). He also has made use of stone and metal in the works. Another intriguing installation ‘Stone Waves’, revolves around 10 smooth sandstone sculptures - appearing peculiar pebble-like, plus a series of white protrusions, molded out of clay and cast in plaster, on a wall. The absence of the hand is to help the viewer to see and feel the presence of something, according to the artist, who reasons that we tend to think of ‘nothing’ as negative.

His idea is to suggest that even nothing can be something intrinsically beautiful. Another apt reflection of this ‘nothingness’ phenomenon reflects in a large work carved in granite, almost 5ft-high and. For him, it’s the inherent irony that comes into play. And he has utilized the hardest of the materials for sculpting the feel nothingness. The treatment of materials may vary in terms of form and content, shuffling between, silkscreen prints, plaster and paper relief. Ideas they look to project seem to reach out to us like sepulchral plaster bodies and arms frozen in walls. Often evoking fragmented, disjointed body parts, ubiquitous objects, or unfamiliar organic forms, A Balasubramaniam’s challenges and explores the limits of perception.