Bihari Subodh Gupta, a Contemporary Artist

Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta is an Contemporary artist based in New Delhi. Trained as a painter, he went on to experiment with a variety of media. His work encompasses sculpture, installation, painting, photography, performance and video.

 Biography  

Subodh Gupta was born one of six children in Khagaul, in Patna, Bihar. His father, a railway guard, died in his early forties, when Gupta was 12. His mother came from a farming family and sent Gupta to live with her brother for few years in a remote village. “Not a single school kid wore shoes, and there is no road to go to school. Sometimes we stop in the field and we sit down and eat green chickpea before we go to school,” he said in an interview with Ginny Dougary for The Times.

“After leaving school, Gupta joined one of the four small theatre groups in Khagaul and worked as an actor for five years. He also designed posters to advertise the plays, which is when it was first suggested that he go to art college. He ended up working as a part-time newspaper designer and illustrator while studying at the College of Art, Patna (from 1983-1988). The day he was offered a permanent job by the newspaper, he packed it in to try his luck in Delhi, where he was awarded a scholarship by a government-run initiative, and a space to work in the Ghari Studios,” wrote Dougary in her 2009 article “Subodh Gupta, India’s hottest new artist, talks about skulls, milk pails and cow dung.” Gupta met artist Bharti Kher during his residency at Garhi. They were soon married and had two children.

 His Work 

Gupta is best known for incorporating everyday objects that are ubiquitous throughout India, such as the steel tiffin boxes used by millions to carry their lunch as well as thali pans, bicycles, and milk pails. From such ordinary items the artist produces sculptures that reflect on the economic transformation of his homeland and which relate to Gupta’s own life and memories. As Gupta says: ‘All these things were part of the way I grew up. They are used in the rituals and ceremonies that were part of my childhood. Indians either remember them from their youth, or they want to remember them.’And: ‘I am the idol thief. I steal from the drama of Hindu life. And from the kitchen – these pots, they are like stolen gods, smuggled out of the country. Hindu kitchens are as important as prayer rooms.’

Gupta transforms the icons of Indian everyday life into artworks that are readable globally. He is among a generation of young Indian artists whose commentary tells of a country on the move, fuelled by boiling economic growth and a more materialistic mindset. Gupta’s strategy of appropriating everyday objects and turning them into artworks that dissolve their former meaning and function brings him close to artists like Duchamp; The Guardian called him ‘the Damien Hirst of Delhi.’ He succeeds in finding an art language that references India and at the same time can be appreciated for its aesthetic throughout world; as Gupta says: ‘Art language is the same all over the world. Which allows me to be anywhere.’

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One of his recent major works, consisting of Indian cooking utensils, is ‘Line of Control’ (2008), a colossal mushroom cloud constructed entirely of pots and pans. The work was shown in the Tate Triennial at Tate Britain in 2009 and is currently exhibited at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi.

Painting is also an important part of Subodh Gupta’s art practice. His series ‘Still Steal Steel’ consists of photorealistic paintings of kitchen utensils falling and moving in space. In his early paintings, Gupta used another element of Indian every day life, cow dung. This is used in India for building houses and as fuel for cooking fires. Moreover, it is a cleaning agent. The idea that cow dung is inherently clean is ingrained in rural India. There, it is a purifying element, both ritual and symbolic. In his video ‘Pure’ (2000, 9 min.), Gupta takes the detergent concept literally and has filmed himself taking a shower, to free himself of the thick layer of dung that covers his body.

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An earlier series of paintings is ‘Saat Samunder Paar’. Baggages, migration and the “return home” have been enduring concerns of Subodh Gupta. It is a theme that crystallised in works such as ‘Across the Seven Seas’ (2006) where he uses baggage trolleys of modern airports to allude to the grim historical reality of migration from India, especially from his home state of Bihar.

In works that Subodh Gupta presented at Hauser & Wirth in October 2009, the artist moved away from composite sculptures toward objects that possess an auratic quality. Ready-made commodities experience transformations in scale and material. Relations to European art history were now to be found. Among the new works is a three-dimensional reworking in bronze of Duchamp’s mustachioed Mona Lisa ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’ (1919).

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His oil on canvas painting ‘Saat Samundar Paar’ went under the hammer for Rs 34 million in the Saffronart autumn online auction. In 2008, he along with several other artists raised 39.3 million for Bihar flood victims.

In 2010, Gupta designed the stage set for the ballet CREATION 2010 by Angelin Preljocaj, the French choreographer. The ballet was produced by the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, and the Ballet Preljocaj.

 Some of the Art of Subodh Gupta 

Source: NGMA

Subhikhya
Not from Bihar, heard a lot about the state. Always interested in exploring the art culture and politics of the state. So here I am, writing and doing PR for AaoBihar.com
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