A master returns
A stroke can't stop an artist. Vadodra artist Dhruva Mistry continues to make hand-painted laser-cut steel sculptures despite a immobile left hand. His determination and beauty of skill is yours to see at a city exhibition
Dhruva Mistry's first solo exhibition in Mumbai was at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1981. He was 24 years old then. And the journey has been a long one. Both in time and distance. Mistry, 62, graduated from MS University, Baroda, before he moved to London in the early '80s where he received a honorary CBE for the contribution to the arts. He not just represented Britain at the Third Rodin Grand Prize Exhibition, Japan in 1990, two years later, he was commissioned by the Birmingham City Council to design sculptures for Victoria Square, Birmingham.
What set Mistry apart from his contemporaries was his work with metal, bright colours and his reinterpretation of mythologies for contemporary times. But, when he returned to India in 1997, he switched to working with steel and metal, and turned to digitally controlled laser-cutting techniques. "I thought that steel would make for a better material than plaster, wood or fibre glass. It's a good material, doesn't rust and symbolises development and progress," he says, adding that he thought it would be interesting to use a material as cold as steel to create "3D illusions of sensuous forms". It also helps, Mistry says, that steel is freely available. That gives him the liberty to buy fresh steel sheets or rods and bend them to his will rather than work with scrap material. "I don't like the idea of making something new from something old. It's like making a meal from leftovers."
Dhruva Mistry at work at his Vadodra studio
Mistry's next show, New Work: 1999-2019, opened last week at Colaba's Akara Art. The exhibition includes 26 sculptures, including some experiments with the female form as well as his trademark piece where he combines parts of the human body, animals and objects while infusing imagery taken from mythology. So you can expect sculptures of reclining women, a woman sowing a field and human-headed birds.
Mistry's work stands out for its brilliant palette—from bright yellows and reds to the garish kaleidoscope of greens, blues and oranges—mostly with spray paint. "Steel is an industrial product and spray painting complements the material... like a paint on a car. I liked that as an idea," he says. Even so, Mistry throws in the occasional hand-painted piece in all his exhibitions. Of the sculptures in his latest show, there are a few painted by hand. "Even though I monitor the process closely and lend a helping hand, the spray painting is done by an assistant," he admits. But the hand-painted pieces are important to him because he also sees himself as something of a classical musician. "You cannot outsource singing of the ragas to someone else," he laughs. "So, while on the one hand the spray-painted works are private-readymade, my hand-painted ones are personal and individual."
What makes Mistry's creative process inspiring is the fact that he continues creating these sculptures even as he's recovering from a stroke he suffered a decade ago. Following that he turned to AutoCAD to make diagrams of his sculptures, breaking the form down into a series of steel planes and then getting them fabricated. "I had to learn how to use a computer. Once I did, it became simpler. Nowadays, you can get everything done using the machine. But [in my condition], everything can be a challenge—something as simple as getting around in an auto rickshaw or picking up the brush to paint my sculptures," he says trying to look at the silver lining pointing out that it's his left side that's paralysed. "I am right handed."
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