Unseen Art: Dhruva Mistry’s 'Little Bird' highlights the importance of cultural history

Dhruva Mistry talks about his interest in a variety of material to articulate his concerns on human life and cultural civilisations through a work never shown.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Dec 14, 2020

Many eons back during my undergraduate days a walk through the sprawling campus of the University of Delhi was a gleeful encounter with graffiti and art of posters. It was at the same time that I encountered public art when the artist Dhruva Mistry’s significantly large on-site installations Seated and Reclining Figure were placed on the University campus. The image of finely contoured sculptures in red and blue lying on an elevated platform in the lush green lawns of the campus continues to hold the attention of an opportune moment to talk about my tryst with arts. Not deviating from my interest in the artist whose works acted as a building block towards raising my curiosity around the artistic sensibilities, the work by Dhruva Mistry’s for the series the Unseen Art was bound to find a place.

Little Bird | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
Little Bird Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

1. Please talk about your general practice.

My aptitude, interests, and exposure since childhood in the 1960s have kept me engaged to discover the life of sculptural forms. An unceasing search for forms continues to sustain my visual curiosity long before the advent of Indian consumer culture backed by economic reforms. As a maker of my art, I share the world of my interests and aspirations. My learning and work continue to evolve with the time-honoured methods of conceiving ideas and images while realising their forms by using actual materials like clay, wax, plaster, wood, stone, bronze or steel.  An unquestionable interest in life and human figure helps me define ideas into the palpable reality of forms with creatures of my experience and imagination.

Little Bird made by the artist in 1984-85 | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
Little Bird made by the artist in 1984-85 Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

2. When and in what circumstances did you conceive of this work?

In 1984-85, I had an opportunity to work as an artist after a decade of university-level training and education since 1973. As an artist in residence at the Kettle’s Yard Gallery and the Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, I was working for the end of the year show. Uncertainties of the time and enigma of life made me work on the Little Bird by using paper, paints, chalk, and mixed media. I was fascinated by its near-human presence and sculptural scale. I was working on my own for the first time as an artist in the cold and dark garden room used as a studio in the Newnham College. There I was working on a set of four Reguarding Guardians as winged protectors of directions of space amidst fears of nuclear shield and star war before the end of the Cold War.  

Little Bird | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
Little Bird by Dhruva Mistry Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

3. What is the theme for the work?

My studio was in the apple orchard and next to sprawling lawns where the idea of the Little Bird haunted as a symbol of freedom fraught with fear of the future in the wilderness of Newnham College garden. In the image of a poised innocence, the eloquence of the Little Bird made me work to realise its presence in space. In 1983, I had made a life-size composite Creature in 1983, which was inspired by the fabled Buraq, from the Persian miniatures, known as the Prophet’s winged steed. It also resembled Kamadhenu of the Hindu myths, the mother of all cows, Surabhi, or the miraculous cow of plenty with wings. Then, the image of Little Bird having seen the God Horusin, the Egyptian Section at the British Museum, attracted me. The symbolic power of freedom and independence of birds has been inspiring since my childhood, for instance seeing fearless house sparrows. After making an Asian falcon for a monument it has been a challenge to conceive and execute the Little Bird by using stainless steel.

  • Dhruva Mistry | Unseen Art | STIRworld
    Artist’s portrait Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry
  • Falcon | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
    Falcon Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

4. What process was used to make the work?

When I made About the Object, a large stainless steel piece facilitated by Cass Sculpture in 1995 (now with the Milton Keynes Gallery), I thought of working with stainless steel as an all-weather, direct and non-corrosive material for my sculpture instead of bronze. Later on, I began to use the various thicknesses of sheet metal and round bars. In 2001, I began to work with AutoCad on my PC for laser cutting of necessary shapes before welding them together. The process of working with a pristine sheet of steel, imagining each work as a self-supportive structure and understanding its formal and structural strength of form remains to be all-important in using industrial materials, method, technology and process of epoxy paints to explore the scope of scale and possibility of my concepts to be realised anywhere in the world. I see the steel works as non-utilitarian, ready-made, right fits into my time.

Little Bird made between 2008 and 2019 | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
Little Bird made between 2008 and 2019 Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

5. Why do you think it has not been shown yet?

To begin with, ideas of my sculptures are aimed to achieve a life-size impact with a relative human scale to see and experience things in our space either indoors or outdoors. The process requires time, energy, resources and patience while transforming ideas into work. After making several variations to check necessary details I reach a stage to work with life-size pieces before attempting a larger version of the work. Sometimes the process lasts longer than imagined to achieve visual satisfaction and gain a structurally safer result. So, what I begin as an idea could last well over a decade with evolving ideas of form and understanding of its structural strength.

Dhruva Mistry’s work at the workshop | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
Dhruva Mistry’s work at the workshop Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

6. What would be the ideal (most desired) format to display the work if and when given a chance?

Exhibiting work allows me to share my delight of seeing ideas in the real world. The more people see the work the better it is for the posterity. At times, some works fail to meet the desired audience and opportunity of display since the art of making things occupy ever-evolving self-interests.  For me, pleasure and concern for the quality of work can only be matched by public exposure and appreciation for those who matter in the cities in an urbanising world.

  • Dhruva Mistry’s studio | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
    Dhruva Mistry’s studio Image: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry
  • 01 min watch Little Bird | Dhruva Mistry| Unseen Art | STIRworld
    Little Bird, a sculpture by Dhruva Mistry Video: Courtesy of Dhruva Mistry

Unseen Art:
Curated by Rahul Kumar, STIR presents Unseen Art: an original series that features works that have never been shown publicly, created by a selection of multidisciplinary artists from across the globe.

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