Veteran Chennai artist S Murugesan’s retrospective show covers his decades-long interaction with sculptures

Veteran artist S Murugesan’s retrospective show features sketches created over the pandemic amid seminal sculptures of his from the ’70s

Lalit Kala Akademi in Greams Road once again looks alive. The gallery, which remained empty through the lockdowns, now welcomes visitors with abstract sculptures in bronze, aluminium and copper, as well as framed sketches and pastels — a curated collection of veteran artist S Murugesan’s work spanning decades, titled ‘Visual Treasure: A Retrospection.’ The display juxtaposes the artist’s latest works created over the pandemic, with those that date back to even the 1960s.

Clad in white, with an affable demeanour, Murugesan greets anyone who walks in. As he sits down to talk, many stories crowd his mind. Still active, the 88-year-old artist starts his day with a notepad and pen. “Who knows when an idea might strike?” he asks.

On some days, drawings unfold, while on others, he meditates with an idea for hours on end. Perhaps, this explains how the artist, a prominent figure of the Madras Art Movement and former Principal of Government College of Fine Arts , managed to continue creating through the pandemic.

One of the bronze sculptures on display | Photo Credit: RAGU R

The body of work on display constitutes only a fourth of his collection; it gives his much renowned, large-scale stone sculptures and oils, a miss.

Murugesan began his sculpting with wood. “But I was not happy with the medium, because I was not able to preserve it,” he says. Metals like bronze, copper, aluminum and stone soon became his preferred mediums.

Woman, a sculpture fashioned by him in 1962, stands tall in the gallery — hollowed out, yet with curves that outline a woman’s body.

An ever-changing form

Link, another one of his popular works done in 1973, a bronze sculpture that morphs into unfamiliar, yet grounding shapes, is also a showstopper — “it signifies the link between the universe and the earth. Without this link, there would be no growth,” he says, adding, “The original works [of the two] were done in wood, and later I converted them into bronze.”

A six-month-old aluminium sculpture created out of discarded vessels shows an evolved style with animalistic figure in motion, rooted in spokes. Krishna, on the other hand, is one of his more detailed works that depicts an ambiguous figure, wielding a flute in its hand, as life surrounds it. “A lot of related elements came to my mind while working on this. How the air is playing the music, and how the trees and snakes move to this music…” he says. Some works, he says, invite him to distort the form after the original is made in clay — a lot of such distortions lend other dimensions to the work, leaving the audience to interpret.

Murugesan with his drawings done over the pandemic | Photo Credit: RAGU R

“There are two basic aspects in sculpting — the depth and the projection. It is the only medium that absorbs all the movements that keep changing in your mind,” says the artist. Though his love for sculptures knows no bounds, the artist believes that paintings, sketches and drawings are where it all begins.

About the series of drawings that he worked on during the pandemic, he says, “It’s been nearly two years now. Some of the drawings denote the effect of the pandemic. I was preoccupied with thoughts about suffering, and how the pandemic continues to dominate us all.” The pen drawings, in contrast to his sculptures, leave no pockets of spaces — they are crowded, intense and often denote distress. While some are realistic manifestations of the artist’s observations, others are abstract meditations on the pandemic. On some, verses from the Thirukkural, written in both Tamil and English, can be seen lining the corners.

One of the bronze sculptures on display | Photo Credit: RAGU R

Murugesan’s decades-long relationship with art has led him to experience the changing landscapes. Viewers’ shorter attention spans and fluctuating interest towards art worries him.

“Changes in art movements are also very rapid. Unless you follow that very keenly, you can’t appreciate it. In the past 100 years, already two -isms have taken place — modernism and postmodernism,” he says. This is not the case in any other country. He points out the example of Picasso’s Guernica and how it has still not been sold to anyone, since it is a masterful piece of work that the public love. “Art is a common language. It is the only form through which you can register your feelings, according to your senses.”

The works will be on display till August 31at Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road, Chennai

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