At Gallery Espace, one can see a suite of recent works by GR Iranna, which bring together two of his recent artistic preoccupations—the tree and ash, which has served as a medium in many of his paintings and sculptures. According to Renu Modi, founder and director of the gallery, three large bronze sculptures of tree logs and branches in this exhibition embody new directions in the artist’s practice. One such is Who shall I desire when emotions merge into ash? At first glance, it seems like a severed branch, which is slowly withering away. But this close parallel with reality draws the viewer closer to contemplate the work’s deeper significance. “Nature and art, wood and bronze, lightweight and heavy, commonplace and precious—Iranna’s works suggest a series of contrasts juxtaposed to underline their metaphorical possibilities and elicit meaning,” mentions the curatorial note. “There’s yet another degree of duality hinted at—the ‘dead’ log finds renewed life as art, redolent not just with the artist’s consciousness but also with the log’s own life story.”
On other walls, one can see trees laden with blossoms in hues of pink and reds, redolent with beauty and vitality. And yet, over time, the blooms and the fragrance ends up dissolving into soil—the very earth that they first emerged from. It is these regenerative and contemplative ideas of birth and death that form a part of Iranna’s new exhibition, Boodi (ash in Kannada). This show is a continuation of Iranna’s engagement with metaphysical dualities of spirituality and materiality, permanence and transience, dark and light. He explores these through juxtapositions of mediums, colours, textures and forms.
“I have had a very long association with ash. When I was studying in an ashram school, there was this practice of putting holy ash, or vibhuti, on the forehead,” he says. “I have been using ash for the past ten years in paper works to render the surface. Over time, I started experimenting with different materials such as mud, brick powder, and more. But in the past five to six years, ash was no longer just being used as a technique or a surface, but also as a carrier of meaning, of old cultural values. There is the realisation that the body eventually turns to ash. So, it adds one more dimension to the work.”
The works on display show this deep exploration of the meaning of ash over time. Even during his travels, whenever Iranna would come across monuments and forts, he would wonder about trees and stone being witness to the rise and fall of empires, to war and devastation. “There has been violence in the name of religion, power, and more. But at the end of the day only soil is left. When we will all turn to ash, why are we killing each other?” asks Iranna. He investigated some of these questions in his work From Ash to Ash, which was showcased at the Kochi Biennale in 2016, in which the union of two egg-shaped forms were used to show infinity. “The egg-shaped womb is a culmination of the form with the formless. The womb has a form; the mother in whom the womb resides also has a form; yet motherhood remains formless. The form essentially carries the formless with it, within it. Even Iranna’s choice of material, in this case holy ash or “vibhuti’, is a metaphor for the impermanence of life. While the egg is a symbol of birth and life, the ash it is composed of reminds us of the imminent death,” wrote Sukanya Garg about the work.
The tree motif in his work is also laden with metaphor. Though the wood sculpture mimics reality, it is actually bronze. These works have been inspired by the works of 12th century Kannada poets such as Allama Prabhu, which talk about self realisation. “In poetry also, metaphors are used for consciousness or the five elements. When I work, I try to create a human connection through objects and motifs like the paduka, charkha, tree, which people can relate to. The minute they start relating with the work, they start getting into the many layers of meaning imbued in it. First you need to enjoy the work and then slowly reach to the core of it. That is exactly how poetry also functions,” he says.
Boodi can be viewed at Gallery Espace or on the online viewing room till April 15, 2021