Rahul Kumar's installation explores dichotomy of things

  • Poulomi Banerjee, None
  • Updated: Jan 18, 2015 14:08 IST

Many of ceramist Rahul Kumar's expressions - the verbal ones, at least - revolve around food. Discussing the importance of proper presentation of art, for example, the self-confessed foodie compares it to a well-decorated sushi platter.

But while food might be a thing to be enjoyed and the piano, photography, abstract art and calligraphy things he dabbles in or collects, clay remains for him his favourite medium of expression - "much like a Japanese cuisine chef who might experiment with and draw inspiration from a range of cuisines, while Japanese food remains his speciality," he says.

Sitting in his small, crowded studio in Gurgaon's Sector 56, Kumar, 38, radiates a creative passion that even a very nagging cold can't diminish. Most of the studio space is taken up by four potters' wheels, two power and two kick.

"I wouldn't have so many but for the fact that I have people coming in to learn over the weekends," he explains, sipping tea from a ceramic mug he made himself. While he does still occasionally make utility items for his own use, as gifts or to demonstrate something to his students, for years now, clay has been his canvas.

Most of his artworks - "almost 95 per cent" - are, however, oriented towards vessels. Even Circle Uncircled, his exhibit at the upcoming India Art Fair, is an installation of 101 platters of varying sizes.
The work, funded by the India Foundation for the Arts and presented in collaboration with Gallerie Alternatives, will be on display from January 29 to February 1, in the special curated projects category - arguably the first ceramic art work to be shown in this category.

"I had seen Kumar's work at the Art Heritage gallery. I like the way he works with scales," says Girish Shahane, artistic director of the fair.

The work speaks to viewers on different levels, as Kumar intended. "The platters form one united whole when seen in totality, but there is a lot of surface detailing that I have given to each individual platter," he says. "Each piece is unique and there is much that goes on at the individual level. The surfaces are also reflective, so depending on the light and shadow, the work speaks to you differently."

To one viewer, the work might appear to reflect on the relationship between an individual and society, or appear like the cosmos, with the platters making up a group of stars and planets. It might also create a sense of dynamics - the platters have achieved a certain balance within the given framework; disturb one and the pattern changes.

It's been a long and interesting road for Kumar, who first fell in love with pottery, at the age of 17.

It was his father who found him his first 'guru', a traditional potter in Paharganj. Eventually, Kumar was introduced to studio pottery and studied at the Delhi Blue Pottery Trust, going on to complete a Master's in Art from The University of Dallas, Texas (USA), in 2008 on a Fulbright scholarship.

In his 20-year career in clay, Kumar has had seven solo shows in the US and India. His works have been auctioned at Sotheby's London and he is three-time recipient of the All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society(AIFACS) National Award. His works are now part of private and public collections (including India Habitat Centre, Jatin Das Centre of Art, and University of Dallas, Texas).

Kumar is currently involved with exploring "the dichotomy of things". Circle Uncircled is part of this exploration, as have been other recent works such as Harmonic Discord and Tranquil Flame - the latter is a series of miniature works in bright red glaze.

Finding balance in seemingly dichotomous situations is something the artist excels at on a personal level too.

Kumar holds a full-time corporate job. "Having a job does mean that I have less time for my art, but that has taught me to use time more judiciously," he says. "I have seen artists who start thinking of ideas and concepts once they are at the studio, but since I am at work through the week, I use those days to sort through my ideas in my mind. That way, when I enter the studio on Saturday, I know just what I want to do. Creation is spontaneous, but I approach it with a lot of organisation."

This organisational skill is visible in his involvement with his works post-creation.

"The viewer has a right to interpret the work his way, or even trash it. But I need to be sure that it reached him the way it was meant to. For this, the positioning of the work, the light, the venue have to be correct," Kumar says.

"After that, if you don't like the sushi, it doesn't mean the sushi was bad. Maybe you just don't have a taste for it," he reasons.

(The India Art Fair is being held at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds in New Delhi from January 29 to February 1)

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