Artist Subodh Gupta, considered the precursor of contemporary art in India, was born in an Indian town called Bihar in 1964. Gupta and his family lived most of their lives in Khagaul. This village was divided into two parts by the railway line. On one side, resides the 99% of the population who work in the railway.
The Railway Boy
In contrast, on the other, one could find the village market, the bazaar, a cinema hall, a swimming pool… A lot was happening! Artist Subodh Gupta claims that he is a “railway boy” since his father, brother, brother-in-law still work in Khagaul’s railway (except for his father who died when Gupta was 12 years old).
It was clear and pre-decided that boys who lived there worked there. However, Gupta had other plans in mind. He wanted to become someone else, someone new, a revolutionary version of himself. Subodh Gupta was fascinated by the arts. The trigger point was when his mother used to take him to watch theatre on the other side of the railway. He fell instantly in admiration with the world of acting and decided to pursue a career in the field.
He worked as an actor for a small theatre for a short time while designing posters for the plays. This was when he uncovered his talent for painting. Gupta enrolled at the College of Arts and Crafts of Patna in India between 1983 and 1988. He chose to pursue a degree in painting since he will become his own set director, own actor, spectator, designer… He is the master of his masterpieces.
For his parents, it was out of the question! They took the harsh, blunt decision of not supporting his studies in the art school. So he went on his own, took his life between his two hands.
In 1993, Subodh moved to Delhi while he was a struggling artist. It is during this complicated period where he met his wife, the UK-born painter Bharti Kher. Her entrance into Gupta’s life changed it drastically; she helped him see through his talent. Today, Kher is an award-winning contemporary artist as well.
Since it is prohibited by the law in India to practice art from home, Subodh Gupta opened an atelier in Delhi, where he works alongside professional painters and artists who help him bring to life the fruits of his imagination and creation.
Philosophy and Perspective
For Gupta, inspiration comes deeply within ourselves, from our childhood memories. What is interesting in his early works is his obsession with cow dung. Traditionally, cow dung is mixed with lime and put on the ground during the evenings to cool down the extreme summer temperatures. Gupta saw the plastic possibilities in this technique.
In 1996, Gupta made his first installation/sculptural series called “29 Mornings”. He claims that this series was his breakthrough when he started using his hands as a medium. The remembrance of his childhood triggered a series of 29 pieces of dunk with objects on them. Every one of these elements would constitute an event, a memory, of his younger years.
In 1999, he made his first performance piece after an 18 days workshop. He collected from a number of neighbors personal objects from their homes. After ten days of collection, he made his own ground with clay and cow dung and buried the objects in the ground. He claims that this is from where the objects are coming from.
All his perspective on art relies on the essence of inspiration. It is important for him to see the beauty and potential of everyday’s mundane elements. When you make art out of them, you mystify them; you give them a certain glory. They become a ritual in a certain way.
From Cow Dungs to Kitchen Utensils
During the late ’90s, Gupta felt an immediate connection between himself and the kitchen utensils. These are common objects that everyone has, everybody uses. He saw art in them, a dialogue, a poem. They became his signature move in his sculptures and installation. He says, “it is important to let your roots go out of you.”
Here, you can see an installation made by Gupta in 2012, called Ray. He took platitudinous cheap metal pots and turned them instantly into a new landscape.
Dada, an installation made in 2014, is both a Hindu God, but at the same time, the way grandkids call their grandfather.
What is interesting to spot in this installation is how the tree is submerging from the outcoming roots.
Sharing the audacity of his dreams, Gupta creates an immediate connection with anybody in India. He takes every aspect of life and generates, out of them, a mesmerizing story.
And Frying Pans
Gupta had a sudden admiration for frying pans. In fact, he claims that it is fascinating how people throw them into the garbage while they are so packed in stories, memories, and emotions. Used frying pans are the ones who attracted Gupta the most for their imperfections. He claims that it is like palm reading; when we look at the wounds on the pans, they tell us a story and give us the possibility to project others.
In 2015, he created a new collection out of them, called “Seven Billion Light Years“, referring to the number of citizens on earth and the cosmic distance.
Life of an Artist
Gupta explains that the future is always challenging to see in the life of an artist. It is all about risks. But at the same time, risks mean pleasure, excitement, as bad arts are part of the journey.
He states that he is not making art to sell it. He is making art because that is his life, his passion. The anger and the ability to dare, to be bold, to conquer the world is what gives energy to his spirit.