Asrama by artist Subra encapsulates the work of a lifetime
There is no knowing the impact a word of encouragement can have on a flagging spirit. Artist G Subramanian recalls how his son asked him to work on a collage on a day when he was feeling blue.
“I told him I wasn’t sure if collage making was the way to go, especially since I was ino painting. Still he asked me not to overthink it, but to work on one. The very next day, a guest to our home saw the unfinished piece and booked it,” says Subramanian, adding that the incident was just the shot in the arm he needed.
That was in 2004. Today, an exhibition of his life’s work, arcing back to his initial years as an artist and five decades of his presence on the art scene, is now on in Bengaluru.
Hailing from Thandavankulam, a coastal village in Tamil Nadu, Subramanian grew up watching his father, a theatre artist, perform on a regular basis. “All through childhood I would see the troupe gear up for plays, and stage hands get the backdrops ready. The scenes would be hand-painted in those days and I believe that was what gave me a window to the world of art.”
Subra, as he is popularly known, graduated from the School of Arts in Kumbakonam (now Kumbakonam College of Arts), on the advice of his school art teacher who saw his potential. “I completed my diploma in commercial art as I wanted to become a graphic designer and it was here I learnt the concept of collage making.”
Despite his obvious talent, Subra says he did not pursue art as a vocation, choosing to work in an advertising company and participating in the occasional art contest. “I got a job in Saudi Arabia where I worked for 18 years. I entered the Saudi national-level art competition where I won a gold medal and a trip to Europe where I saw the works of all the Impressionist masters.”
Two years later, Subra won again, and this time, the award included a trip to the United Kingdom where he looked up all the renown galleries. “Inspired by all I had seen, I decided to become a full-time artist. In 2003 at the age of 51, I resigned my job to devote my life to art. Initially, it was not all easy as I was neither young nor old and the galleries were not too supportive.”
Even though he had won the state Lalit Kala Academy Award as well as the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society’s Millennium Award in 2000, Subra says he found himself struggling to stay motivated. The loss of his nine-year-old daughter Surya in 1994, continued to weigh him down. That was when his son’s gentle nudge inspired him to channel his grief into his passion.
“I had earlier worked on a series of acrylic on canvas titled ‘She’ in memory of my daughter. I began reworking those ideas on collage and that is when I realised how comfortable I am with that medium.”
“With time it has become easier, more beautiful and more meaningful for me. The long hours don’t matter and when I am working, I am thinking of her; my nine-year-old girl is always on my mind.”
Now based out of Bengaluru, Subra says he had turned to meditation and spirituality to help him in the aftermath of the tragedy, an aspect that comes through in his ‘Inner Line’ and ‘Sacred Book’ series, and other works. As part of the retrospective, his bronze sculptures are also on display.
“Kumbakonam is a temple town and while studying there, I picked up the art of using the lost wax method to sculpt figurines. In this technique, molten metal is poured into a wax mould to create images. While panchloha (an alloy of five metals) is used in this manner to fashion deities, I used bronze for my work.”
As with his art, a sense of the divine as well as the blissfulness of playful innocence, shine through Subra’s bronzes. “The exhibition is titled Asrama to depict the various stages of my life,” he adds.
Asrama, a collection of work by artist G Subramanian, is on at KYNKYNY art gallery till January 14, 2023.