‘Iron Man’ Arzan Khambatta on his funny sculptures and why he’ll never grow up
Sculptor Arzan Khambatta has designed some of the most prominent public sculptures in the city. As he returns with a show after five years, we find he can still use metal to tell wonderful, humorous stories
We’re trying to locate sculptor Arzan Khambatta’s studio in an industrial estate in Sewri. None of the neighbouring offices seem to have an inkling about any studio. So we call Khambatta. He emerges from behind a metal-grill. The sculptor and architect looks younger than his 50 years, and dapper in a black vest, black T-shirt and blue jeans.
Even as we shoot, and in snatches between our conversation, he gives instructions to his team. “I have energy to spare. What I can’t do is sit around. I get bored and keep complaining,” he says.
Preparations are in full swing for Khambatta’s latest exhibition, Freeze Frame, his first show in five years. Aptly, 50 sculptures will be on display to mark his turning 50. A couple of workers are busy welding metal sculptures; a few finished artwork lie around. The studio is packed with metal and wooden odds and ends — the skeleton of earlier works to be recycled for new sculptures.
He’s known for his humorous sculptures. The new show, too, will feature tongue-in-cheek works. Consider Julius Scizzor: a metal sculpture where the Roman politician is moulded in the contours of metallic scissors. Or, Techno Notice of the World Around You, a metal sculpture of a man engrossed in his laptop. We bump into something hanging from a line only to be told they are the limbs for a sculpture inspired by Salvador Dali, Khambatta’s favourite artist.
“I pun a lot. The funny side of life comes automatically to me. The ideas stem from things I see every day,” he says, adding, “Sometimes the titles come first, or it could be the other way around.”
There’s a small studio in one corner of the workshop: a quiet corner where Khambatta unwinds. It has evidence of things he cares the most about: paintings by his children, books on art and travel; and his photographs (from Triptych — a group photo exhibition he did at Gallery Art & Soul in 2015). There are doodle books as well, where he jots down his thoughts using ink pens and eight different-coloured inks.
Back in time
Khambatta calls himself a “Bombay boy”. He grew up in Dadar Parsi Colony. “As a kid, I have been to two-three schools. I was bad at studies. My parents would never come to any of my open houses because they knew the complaints they would get,” he laughs.
His introduction to sculpture happened when he accompanied his sister to a summer class on sculpture at age 14. “I was hooked,” he says. All through college (he studied science at KC College, Churchgate), he kept making sculptures.
After graduating from Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture, Dadar, he started assisting his architect father. It was only in the ’90s that he exhibited his sculptures.
While he started with scrap metal works, or “Scraptures”, he later took to iron. This earned him the moniker of ‘Iron Man’. He also gained fame for his public installations. “My forte is public sculptures. I realised that there are few artists who make them,” he says. His noteworthy installations include Rhino (initially at Nariman Point, now at Kandivali), and Vikrant (opposite Lion’s Gate), a memorial sculpture to India’s first aircraft carrier — INS Vikrant.
In this exhibition, he works with carved wood, brass, copper and stainless steel, apart from iron. A recent development is the addition of facial features in sculptures. “It’s always been about experimenting with materials, techniques and machines… I make the craziest stuff. If you think rationally, you cannot create art,” says Khambatta.
In his journey, his wife Khushnuma, 47, a fashion designer, has been a constant support. “She helped me streamline my work for 10 years, helping with inventory, taxation and other managerial details. She still handles the difficult aspects,” he adds.
Not just work
While he devotes almost eight hours a day to work, Khambatta makes it a point to pursue other passions. He tried his hand at film-making — he made a short feature called Decibel, on noise pollution (screened at the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, 2011) — and even stand-up comedy (at Starbucks; Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, 2013).
After work, Khambatta goes walking, cycling, or does yoga. These activities, he says, help him gain inspiration. “I stopped growing mentally at 18. Even if I see a flying aeroplane, I tend to get excited. There is a certain excitement within me that I don’t want to lose,” he says.
One of his hobbies is to assemble puzzles; in fact, his studio has a mounted puzzle of a Renaissance painting. After solving 8,000-piece puzzles, he is now trying to solve an 18,000-piece puzzle. He also collects miniature replicas of his favourite car — the Land Rover Defender.
Next, Khambatta is planning to exhibit his pen and ink drawings in 2017. Unlike his figurative sculptures, the drawings are abstract. “When you look into a microscope or a telescope, what you see is almost the same thing. That fascinates me,” he says.
Freeze Frame is on from October 12 to 17, 11am to 7pm
At Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda
Call 2284 3989