There is one thing I admire about the Maximum City – the fact that it makes good quality art accessible to the common people. The Jehangir Art Gallery, in South Mumbai, is one such gallery that regularly hosts some wonderful artists and one is exposed to various mediums of expression. My friend Simi and I were fortunate to see the works of stoneware artist G. Reghu, who had come all the way from Namma Bengaluru. It was a pleasure to meet this unassuming artist and his son at the Mumbai show that was beautifully curated by the art critic and curator Uma Nair. Though Reghu’s valued collectors are from the city, he was exhibiting in Mumbai after nearly after two decades.
While I am no expert in pottery or sculpture, as an art aficionado, I found Mr. Reghu’s art form unusual and interesting. Stoneware is an ancient art and is a broad term for pottery or ceramic work that is fired at high temperatures. Reghu, 60, is an alumnus of the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram where he studied sculpture. He later got a scholarship to study at the Roopankar Museum at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal under his mentor J. Swaminathan. Over time, Reghu did not want to limit his work to just ceramic or pottery and moved to sculpture.
This show had nearly 100 odd works – of people, children, and several figures of his famed ruminants – the cow. These cows are all sculpted in the seated positions and one could almost imagine them ruminating after a satiating meal in the rural settings, watching the world go by. It is this pastoral scene in a humble village that Reghu wants to bring to the viewer through his sculptures. Since he enjoys working with the rural theme, the features of the people are influenced by his visits in Wayanad in Kerala and Bastar- both of which lie in the tribal belt. The features are reminiscent of the Dravidian and African racial stock. Whether it is a pair of children cycling or people relaxing having a smoke, it evokes a leisurely pace of life. The morphology of the figures is exaggerated with large noses, ears, and lips. As far as the technique goes, Reghu uses the processes of hollow-modeling, slabbing, folding, coiling and pinching, to create this a racial type. There are also the hanging figures on display, which remind you of the puppet-dolls in rural India.
Curator Uma Nair’s critique and brochure explains that Reghu works his own wood-fuelled kiln at temperatures ranging from 1240-1280 degrees Celsius. This, apparently, is crucial to the results. For every piece of work, he begins from scratch by building his own grog – that is clay that is fired and then ground. Reghu does not make use of glaze or chemicals when he fires his stoneware. Instead, he uses iron or manganese oxide to get variations in colour and works on a matte finish. This natural colour gives the stoneware a better and natural texture and appeal. The result is a smoky and satin-smooth natural patina. Indeed, the images of his work stay with you long after you have left the show. When you ask him about his influences, he mentions the legendary architect Laurie Baker and J. Swaminathan, his mentor at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal.
G. Reghu is the recipient of an Award conferred at the Fourth Contemporary Indian Art Biennale, Bharat Bhavan, 1987 & 1988 and also the Bombay Art Society Award, Mumbai, 1998.