WHITTLED SPACE

10 November - 22 December, 2017

The word that characterizes historicity is authenticity. It is through an artist’s output over time that we know, authentically, the stamp that makes an artist unique. Piraji Sagara is no exception to this rule; he has put his authentic stamp on the world of Art.

Piraji Sagara belonged to the Sagara community that had to leave Rajasthan in a time of drought and find a new existence in Ahmedabad. The Sagaras had a unique talent of cutting and shaping beautiful things out of wood and their efforts at survival took an artistic turn. Piraji Sagara inherited this history and in the years to come, he was to transform that rustic pastime to high art.

Look through the volume of his work from the mid fifties to the early nineties and the slow shaping of his artistic integrity, the maturing of his skill, and the vibrancy of his themes is apparent. What began in the early phases as experiments with a medium, a passionate flirtation with material and technique transformed in the later years into consummate artistry. 

Piraji Sagara found a way to internalize his experiences and to unleash their meanings in water colour, pastel, relief work, ornamental scraps, glass bead fragments, copper and brass cut-outs and wood. He worked on paper and canvas and later on wooden boards. Two things brought him into the limelight both in his own country and abroad: nothing he painted conformed to photographic realism but his paintings were impressions that played with the abstract and, yet, brought into being landscapes in bursts of colour or bold black strokes; he used the texture of his medium and ornamental scraps not as decorative articles but as integral fragments of the composite. 

Piraji’s relief work can be roughly divided into three categories. The early phase has profuse use of ornamental scrap; the middle phase uses plain sheets of metal and nails on boards in relief; the final phase is one of pure relief work in wood with paint.

Piraji’s style was already uniquely his authentic expression. What came to the fore was the marriage of his artistic sensibility with materials and technique. The traditional love for intricate ornamentation was part of his Indian psyche but he was a master at turning this into innovations of composition. Rusted iron nails, brass sheets, pieces of carved wood used for block printing, parts of old wooden chests, brass and copper cut-outs from traditional furniture, fragments of glass beads all found their way into his art.   

Fix your attention on one of his wood reliefs. The eye takes in an abstract space of scattered pieces. It takes a while to get used to it. And then, like some ethereal spirit, a white filigree takes form and shape. The detail comes home to you in a layer upon a wooden surface like a spread of fine lace from which pockets of colour burst, paint on burnt wood. 

You move to another wood relief. This one is titled ‘Birds’: two overlapping figures caught in mid-flight. You watch how gradations of wood brown change into aluminium grey-white within a border of grey-black. Cut away wood gives you the illusion of a shadow and two bright spots of colour transfix you. Glass bead fragments shimmer into wings and something in you takes flight. Sand, nails, aluminium, and burnt wood are no longer just materials; they belong together within an aesthetic and become the stretch towards freedom from the earth.

Piraji has emerged from early experimentation to consummate artistry. His work has integrity, individual style, thematic vision, the aesthetic of both his inherited cultural traditions and his unique personal impression, and the use of materials that makes his medium one of exceptional mastery. His vocabulary has grown since the mid-fifties and his voice comes up like a song in wood. He is a poet in his vision and a painter in his soul. It is Piraji’s uncommon vocabulary as an artist that makes magic of his work.   

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