Alwar Balasubramanium, fondly known as Bala, is a jack of all trades and masters them too. He is a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and world-renowned installation artist. He was content and happy when he used to earn Rs 300 in the 80s. He enjoyed doing his work and there is still a spark left in him to create something unexpected. He is also known for his shyness and reclusive nature. He didn’t paint for two decades and after taking his sweet time in reinvigorating himself, he came out of his hibernation to display his alchemy with paints. What got the attention of the stalwart of the Indian contemporary art now? They were clouds!
He fills people with awe and astonishment when they see art through his perspective. Prima Kurien was a curator of the gallery which displayed his works for the first time. According to her Bala had a deep spiritual appeal from the beginning that he reflected in his work. He sees life in different colors and people feel a sense of rigor after meeting him. Consequently, his ways with people also make them curious about his work. Girish Shahane was the curator of the Indian Art Fair which was organized in the year 2015. He thinks of him as an extraordinary human being.
Kurien had a gallery in the Shahpur Jat area of Delhi till 2002. The name of her gallery was Art Inc. She knew him from the time when he was still a budding artist. She brought a hologram made by him at the fourth Bharat Bhawan International Print Biennialheld at Bhopal in the year 1997. She was intrigued by his creation and her curiosity led her to inquire about him.
Fortunately, after some time he came to her gallery with his portfolio. The meeting culminated into a lifelong friendship and soon after, Art Inc. became the first gallery to host a solo show for the maverick of art. According to Kurien,” You will be surprised, it set new precedents in printmaking. The entire show, even editions, sold out. And this was a time when there was no real market for art, the Progressives were ruling, and no one looked at new artists," as reported by the Livemint in their 17th January 2015 edition titled ‘Alwar Balasubramanium: The Reclusive Star.’
Two decades have passed ever since and his glory seems to have no limits and bounds. Bala has become a nationally and internationally known figure belonging to Indian contemporary art. His diversity and capability to operate and work in different mediums make him one of the most sought after Indian artists. His works have been installed in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art or MoMA andGuggenheim Museum in New York. Both of these sanctums of art are situated in the U.S.A. Mori Art Museum established in Tokyoin Japan also houses his creations.
The art prodigy self-taught to become a sculptor and it turns out that his works are appreciated around the globe. According to Holland Cotter form the New York Times,” Mr. Balasubramaniam, self-taught as a sculptor, is young, savvy and in the middle of a spurt of growth. It could take him anywhere, but there’s already a lot here.” Bala is one of those artists who stirs the water with his works. He tries to capture the impregnable, he sees what all of us fail to understand.
His paintings and sculptors have a philosophical appeal. In one of her works, we see that two legs are protruding out of the white wall in a sitting position. He calls them the artwork of substance and absence. The man in the sculpture is present on the spot and still be absent. He creates an environment with his creativity that seems as if all the physical elements of existence have deviated from their paths. Gravity doesn’t seem to hold. The time doesn’t seem to pass. The immersive ambiance created by the artists takes the spectator to a place where they have never been before.
In the words of Deepanjana Klein Bala’s works invoke an international and universal address and that makes him different from other contemporary Indian artists. His creation has a less Indian feature and more of an accommodating feeling to which anyone could identify irrespective of geographical and cultural differences. Deepanjana is the International Head of Department of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s.
This debate whether Bala’s work accommodates Indian features in his work took a toll on his growth. His work could not get recognition in the initial years. Whether his work was misunderstood for him being an Indian or his work was more universal? The reason is unknown. In an interview published in the First City magazine in the year2011, he tried to explain what kind of bias he suffered. He recalled,” I remember, in my first show in New York, they asked, “Where is the Indian-ness in your work?” Now, the same people, after having watched the body of my work, say, “There is too much Indian philosophy in your work.” They’re looking for a superficial skin-level Indian-ness, which I’m not about."
It is a known fact that art form India is perused through a well-formed opinion that Indian art should have features that could make them recognizable distinctly. Artwork lacking those features seldom gets acknowledged. Indian art depicting the Indian Pop culture was appreciated and this phenomenon led to the branding of artists likeBharti Kher and Subodh Gupta as artists accommodating ‘Indianness’.
With the flow of time and art collectors becoming more aware of the diversified facets of contemporary paintings online, many deserving artists like Bala whose works were devoid of any ‘Indianness’ were given a due appraisal. The spokesperson of the Talwar Art Gallery in Delhi has seen the effect of the change of winds. They now receive orders from international buyers who collect Bala’s work because of the quality unaffected by his nationality. Viola! Now we can say at least that there is hope!