G. Reghu’s sculptures are an ode to the simple life

Commonly associated with fine tableware, high-end decorative trinkets, or glazed studio pottery, ceramic is an uncommon choice for down-to-earth sculptures evoking a simple, steady-paced life. But in doing so, G. Reghu not only created an army of extraordinary and unassuming ceramic figures, but also made a distinct name for himself among contemporary sculptors in India.

Reghu’s latest ceramic sculptures are currently on display at the Sumukha Gallery in Bengaluru in a solo exhibition which runs until July 16.

The natural brown ceramic figures with a decidedly Indian rural/tribal stylization of their features testify to the artist’s sensitivity to indigenous arts.

Early in his career, Kerala-born Reghu came under the wing of Jagdish Swaminathan, the artist-ideologist who brought India’s rich tribal arts to mainstream attention in the 1980s.

“I was in a camp in Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, in 1987, my last year at Thiruvananthapuram College of Fine Arts, when J. Swaminathan saw me working in stone and asked me what my plans were. J I was undecided, so he gave me a scholarship to work at Bharat Bhavan for two years,” the 63-year-old artist recalls.

He then spent the next 15 years in the cultural hub of Central India before moving to Bengaluru, where he is now based. It was at Bharat Bhavan that Reghu made the transition from stone to ceramic.

“In India, people generally think of ceramics as pottery, which is just one aspect of it. In less than a year at Bharat Bhavan, I held a successful exhibition of my ceramic works at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. It gave me the confidence to explore ceramics further,” he said.

His favorite genre is the figurative, which he has explored in various sizes, from pint-sized works to 5-foot-tall sculptures.

“I prefer the wood oven which gives a natural color to the clay after a certain temperature. I don’t like the glaze, which is more suitable for pottery. The glaze spoils the expression of the figures. I have been modeling my characters by hand for 35 years,” he said.

Besides Swaminathan, there was another lasting influence on Reghu’s propensity to create art close to nature.

His family lived near a hospital on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, where Elizabeth Baker, wife of British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, worked as a leprosy doctor. Having lost his father at the age of three, Reghu played on the hospital campus with his siblings while his mother went to work.

“Mrs. Baker used to give us pieces of paper to draw on. She liked my drawings and encouraged me,” he said, sharing that the Bakers supported him throughout college.

Laurie Baker imprinted on young Reghu’s mind the importance of living a sustainable life.

“I live simply and make simple art, depicting the simplicity of life when lived in harmony with nature,” he said.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, editor and arts consultant. She blogs at www.archanakhareghose.com)