Profile: Venugopal VG / The Golden Deer of Urbanism / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Venugopal VG through his works offers perspectives and critiques a mercurial system that grows at a rapid pace, flagging out issues, while surviving within this mutating organism, observes Sushma Sabnis
Today’s cities are like identical twins or siblings. Be it urban or rural one finds the similarity of structures and ample visual stimuli with a feeling of deja vu no matter which place one goes to. The rural is fast turning into an aspiring replica of the urban as homogenizing arms sweep in all directions. While opening of markets all over the world, the free economy brought with itself variety and versatility, it also side-lined that which was indigenous, native or home-grown. The unspoken power tussles still continue and one could find them if they stroll by any market place, be it consumables, property etc.
These are tiny cracks in the economical structure of an already functioning society brought on by the influx of another dynamic entity. If a social fabric endures these fissures in continuity, how do the individuals which form this society respond ? Such narratives become the prime focus of artist VG Venugopal’s works where he tries to address the growing pains of a socio-economic structure and its impacts on the mutating social being.
Venugopal has a BFA in Painting from CAVA (Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts), Mysore and a MFA in Printmaking from Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru. The art works of the artist display various levels of engagement with the narratives of the gradual tightening of the urban clasp over nature and natural resources. Human desire or greed often tips the balance of the environment to dangerous lop-sidedness. Agricultural lands are encroached upon and turned into malls and office spaces, trees are cut down to build high-rises, highways and flyovers to some vague and unimaginable futuristic world of aspirations. In his works, Venugopal stresses deeply on these multiple narratives of the silent aftereffects of exploitation, and the exaggerated demands of progress.
While some of his works question the rapid growth and unchecked proliferation of a city, he also juxtaposes the view of the common man, wanting a piece of this ever growing pie of progress. He uses these metaphors in his works like ‘Platter’, ‘Journey’ and ‘Island’ where his inner common man desires a few things, needed for his survival. In his work ‘Contemplative’ he looks at a chair with a dead tree which dreams of the ‘things’ which could restore his sense of abundance. The hands seem to feel as they are contemplating the need of these items.
The artist also uses the leitmotif of the golden deer in some of his works where temptation ride alongside the deer in flight, in ‘Utopia’ as it pulls a bag full of desirable possessions before the viewer’s eyes while dangling a prime green piece of land over its antlers, high above people’s reach. Venugopal has re-introduced this deer metaphor from his earlier work ‘His Story’ from 2011. A good luck charm such as the good luck plants emerge from the roof of a building complex, making the housing industry a metaphoric game of luck in his work, ‘Good Luck Homes’.
His recent series titled ‘Transit‘ portray the silhouettes of single or groups of individuals often lugging baggage that they carry, either metaphorical or actually, to move from one place to the other. The Bangalore based artist probably has witnessed numerous migratory patterns by its inhabitants ever since the city became the silicon valley of the country. While some of the works in this series depict a single person, captured in a tentative moment, a state of feeling lost, or looking back at what they left behind, the artist also paints these individual forms with backdrops of what they moved away from. The silhouettes become moving embodiments of an unpredictable future and an irreversible past. In some works, the silhouettes of construction workers create that elusive piece of property which the rest of the world hopes to own, while working in dire conditions only to possess it. A silhouette of a soldier merges with the land he protects with his life, as urban individuals reap the fruits of that freedom provided at his expense.
The works of artist Venugopal have been informed by the environmental residues of urbanism and the unspoken footnotes of migration, displacement and identity. In some of his works there is a sense of nostalgia which seeps through placing the works in a lost romanticism of a life once lived. Since society is a dynamic evolving organism and rarely stagnant, one questions if the artist positions himself in an unmoving stance as he negotiates the fast mutating world around him.
This could be seen as a problematic especially when one partakes from the very system that one chooses to critique. Art either flags out the issues, critiques or proposes solutions and a nostalgic stance could render a distinct narrative either into the realm of romanticism of a bygone time or a mere complaint about an unmanageable current system. On closer evaluation of Venugopal’s works, however, one could see attempts at the multiple positioning the artist chooses to assume to tackle the unpredictability of the mercurial organism of urbanism, through his earlier works and the current series of works. As his works move along the vantage point of the proletariat, labouring class to that of the hep urban metrosexual, to that of the identity-free individual of the future, his golden deer is seen transforming silently into a mere silhouette of the memory of desire.
Artist Venugopal VG lives and works in Bengaluru.