It is difficult to come to a decisive opinion about the work of the senior sculptor, Niranjan Pradhan, whose retrospective held at the ICCR concluded on Friday. No doubt like many products of the Government College of Art & Craft he is highly skilled, and has an enviable grasp on technique and human anatomy. As a sculptor, more often than not he creates works of a high aesthetic standard, although they may seem a little dated today. He seems to be caught in a time warp and his work harks back to the 1960s, when cubism was the rage. That can be overlooked as his craftsmanship is superb, particularly in his symbolic work where his figuration is very compact and he uses material like wood and marble with great panache.
His take on Ganesh Janani is quite original. Instead of going back to the usual way this popular theme is treated in paintings, in this marble piece the strapping elephant-headed god seems to emerge from the womb of his mother. It is a powerful work and is soaked in a clear light that seems to glow through the translucent material. He uses marble once again in his charming depiction of birth where the forms are very close to abstraction, although it is clear that poultry is behind it all.
Pradhan uses the natural shape of a log of wood to create a floating woman. The forking branches of the log suggest her flailing legs and she looks effortlessly buoyant. Without a powerful imagination Pradhan could not have created works such as this and other pieces like the predatory owl and the pair of battling tigers, their sinewy bodies creating half moons that quiver with aggression. His portrait of a bald man with shaggy brows is so real it is quite remarkable. It is the result of years of academic training at the art college, and this is reflected in his drawings. He created many of these in the 1960s and 1970s and the strong influence of cubism is quite clear, although he is not overtly imitating any trend in particular.
However, his forms become enervated when spirituality creeps in. His figures lose their plasticity and they become stiff and formal. There are few contemporary artists today who can handle this theme, and most end up looking tawdry. All these works were displayed on the third floor of ICCR.
The larger, recent works displayed in the foyer of the building, however, seem to have been created by another man. The banality of the etiolated and eroticized women, the lumbering Rammohun Roy, and the vacuous head of Satyajit Ray with a mole have little in common with the earlier works which display a fine sensibility.