Friday, 8 December 2017

Mario Converio and his iron sculptures

Italian sculptor Mario Converio is known for his sculptures in wrought iron. Though iron has been known to humanity at least for a few thousand years, its use for creating sculptures is not very common as it is difficult to work with. Mario manages to creates poetry with the metal.


Recently an exhibition of his works, "Metal Fantasies" was organised in Schio (VI, Italy), where I had an opportunity to talk to Mario. This post presents the artist Mario Converio and some of his sculptures from this exhibition.

Mario Converio

Mario lost both his parents early - his mother died when he was 2 and his father, when he was 12. His artistic journey started when he was 14 and decided to make a sculpture of his father (in the image below, Mario Converio with the bust of his father).


Mario did not attend any art academy. He was interested in art and started learning it by himself, experimenting with different materials and techniques, starting with clay and stone. He visited different parts of Europe and was inspired by ice-sculptures, after which for a period he worked with ice and glass, and participated in many international art events. One of his first metal sculptures was that of a female-butt made from a grass-cutter. Since then he likes to experiment with butts and this has brought him fame.

In 1976 he was one of the founders of artists' group of Schio. The group organises street events in which he demonstrates his wrought iron sculpting skills. They had also started some art courses.

Over the past decade he has participated in different events about wrought-iron sculptures in Italy and in different parts of Europe. He has won awards in some of them. He feels that this has been a great learning opportunity for him to see the techniques others were using and sharing his own experiences. Apart from iron, he sometimes also uses bronze and stones in his works.


He told me, "Making art is a process of trial and error. Some times, it works and I am happy with my creation. Other times, I feel that it was a mistake and it did not come out as I had imagined it."

Working with iron is hard and tiring work. Mario said, "I am 73 years old and I start to feel that I can't go on doing it for very long. It requires strength and energy of a younger person. When I was younger, I didn't use proper protections like using gloves to protect from vibrations, so that has created some complications for me."


About the sculptures in the exhibition, Mario explained that some of them were things that he had made many years ago, while others are more recent. Making of these sculptures requires time. The simple ones can be completed in a couple of weeks while big sculptures, require months of work.

Creating sculptures in wrought iron

To create the sculptures, the artist needs to choose the iron sheets which then have to be forged at high temperature. While a sheet is red hot, its shape can be molded. The iron cools quickly and thus time for shaping it for creating sculptures is short.

Mario first creates a model of his sculpture in clay, which is much easier to work with. This allows him to think of the shape he wants to create in iron and plan the process.

Though iron is a difficult metal to work with for an artist, Mario's long experience and ability makes him bring out a kind of dynamism in his sculptures, making them come alive. Beaten iron can assume different hues, from a cold bluish grey to a warm burnt sienna. These chromatic variations add to the beauty of his work.


Apart from working with sheet metal, Mario has also experimented with metallic nets for creating his sculptures. Creating a sculpture with such nets, requires additional care as it needs to be shaped delicately. Some of his most suggestive works have been created in this way.

Now, let me briefly present some of his works from his "Metal Fantasies" exhibition.

Nature sculptures

Mario likes to sculpt animals and birds, with an occasional flower or a plant. Among his animal sculptures, I especially liked animals frozen in action. Among these, my favourite was a running dog, its whole body lifted in air with only a paw touching the ground. I loved this dog's expression and I could almost see its saliva drooling down its mouth.


Female form

Mario's sculptures of the rounded female buttocks are famous. He had a large number of them in the exhibition. I liked the ones where the metal's shape suggested the roundness and the female form, rather than the more explicit ones showing genitals.


My favourite among his female butt-sculptures was the one shown in the image below, made from a thick iron-net sheet. Compared to the legs that are lateral, the upper part of the body is turned forward at an impossible angle.


Another of his sculpture, which is well known, had a nude woman wrapped around an old TV set.


Among his full body female nude sculptures my favourites were those where the body was shown frozen-in-action, like the girl doing acrobatics with a ribbon in the image below. Like the frozen-in-action animals, in all these sculptures, only small parts of the bodies were anchored to the base while most of the sculptures were in the air.


Male form

There were occasional sculptures of male nudes, buttocks and genitals among his work but they were not a prominent part of his work. Among these, my favourite was one in the image below, of a guy with a six-pack abdomen and once again, frozen-in-action body.


Conclusions

I loved Mario Converio's sculptures. I liked the way he combines abstract unformed metal, as if being torn away from its roots, and how it gently transforms into a shape, hinting at something instead of being explicit. I also liked his ability to freeze a moment in time in the metal, catching the dynamicity of an action-charged moment. They are full of drama and emotions, something which you do not expect to be so strong in a metal sculpture.


To conclude, below you will find the thumbnails of some other sculptures by Mario - click on them for a larger view. Do tell me which of Marios's sculptures presented in this post did you like the most and why!



Note: Some of the images of his sculptures presented with this post, have been modified with photo-effects and are therefore, different from how those works actually appear.

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Monday, 4 December 2017

The beautiful fort of Orchha

Forts were built since ancient times as citadels to resist the enemy attacks. Inside, the forts were like small cities. They had royal palaces, temples, armories, treasuries, and also water supply systems and granaries to resist long sieges. Orchha fort from the 16th century India is a beautiful Jal Durg (fort surrounded by water).

Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The Orchha fort has some of the most beautiful palaces, examples of the Bundeli architecture, amalgamating traditional Indic influeces with those from Mughal, Persian and Rajasthani styles. The image above shows the entrance of Jahangir Mahal in the Orchha fort.

Forts in Bundelkhand and Orchha

Bundelkhand is an ancient land. Since 7th century CE, the area was ruled by Chandels, initially under the Pratihara kings. They were succeeded by the Bundels. Though the region must have had more ancient forts, most of the existing forts date back to the Chandel and Bundel periods.

Different kinds of forts have been described in the ancient Indian texts - Dhanva durg (desert fort), Mahi durg (mud fort), Giri durg  (Mountain fort), Nar durg (fort protected by men), Jal durg (Water fort) and Van durg (forest fort).

Adhwar river, outer walls and Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Orchha became the capital of Bundeli kingdom in 1530 when king Rudra Pratap started the construction of a Jal durg, close to the river Betwa (image above).

Construction of the Orchha fort

The first palaces for the king and the queen inside the Orchha fort were built between 1531 to 1539 under the reign of Bharati Chandra. This construction was continued by his brother Madhukar Shah. Many important constructions took place under Bir Singh Deo. For example, he was responsible for completing the Jahangiri Mahal.

The most significant construction after Bir Singh Deo was Sheesh Mahal (glass palace) adjoining Jahangir Mahal, which now hosts a hotel - it was built in 1763 under Udait Singh.

The fort is polygonal in shape with its longer side in the north-south axis. The moat separating it from the town was built by the deepening of Adhwar river, a tributary of Betwa river, which surrounds it from south-east. A terah-khamba (13 arches) bridge connects the fort to the city. Inside it has two main palaces - Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal, built along an east-west axis and many other imposing buildings.

Terah Khambe bridge, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The main gate, known as Kanteela Darwaza (Thorny gate), makes a sharp turns first to the right and then to the left, before it leads to the entrance gate of Raja Mahal. The sharp turns of the passage were built to slow down the entry of the invading enemy. A second passage, to the left after the main gate, leads directly to the main entrance of Jahangiri Palace at the back.

Bridge and main entrance, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Raja Mahal (King's Palace)

This palace has three main parts (1) the 3-storied entrance gate (Northern entrance) leads to the Deewane-Aam (Hall of public audience); (2) behind the public court, there is a multi-storey building that includes Deewane Khas (hall of private audience) and (3) the residential part of the palace (shown in the map below).

Layout of Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Deewane-Aam is built on a platform, with three parallel pillard halls and is open on two sides. An elegant, two-sided staircase with a wrought-iron balustrade leads to the halls.

Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Steps separate the three halls. The third and the inner most hall is raised on a platform for the sitting of the nobles along with a second higher platform at the eastern end for the king, as shown in the image below.

King's seat, Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

All the walls and roofs of this building are decorated with wall paintings. The two common themes in the wall paintings are religious (mostly Krishna with gopis and cows) and nature (mostly water birds and fighting or hunting eagles).

Krishna, gopis and cows in wall painting, Deewane Aaam, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Water birds and eagles in wall paintings, Deewane-Aam, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

There is a Shiva temple in front of the Deewane-Aam, behind which you can see the Sheesh Mahal (Glass palace) which was built two centuries later.

Shiva temple and Sheesh Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Behind Deewane-Aam is the eastern gate of the palace leading to Deewane-Khas (Hall of private audience). This hall is actually an open courtyard with the king's terrace in front and two raised platforms on the north and south ends for the nobles.

Deewane-Khas, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Arched entrances from Deewane Khas lead to the inner residential part of the palace which has a central square-shaped courtyard and a small raised platform at its centre. In the middle of each of the four sides around the courtyard, on the first floor, there are four heavily decorated rooms along with jutting terraces. On the third floor, there is a second level of four terraces. From the terraces you can have a good view of the other terraces, as well as of the central courtyard below.

Residential part of Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

All around the palace, there are arched open window-spaces resembling the Gothic style of architecture that was common in Europe in this period. This palace is supposed to have many secret passages. It was inhabited till 1783.

All the rooms and corridors of this part of the building are decorated with wall paintings, mostly showing women and the scenes of the royal life with horses and elephants. The chhattris along the top of the building are decorated with tiles in different shades of blue, probably added during the Bir Singh Deo's reign.

Wall paintings of women and hunting scenes, 2nd floor, Raja Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Jahangir Mahal

The construction of this palace was started in late 15th century under the reign of Rama Shah and Indramani Singh. It was completed in 1606 under king Bir Singh Deo. He gave it the name of Jahangir Mahal to honour his friend and ally Mughal emperor Jahangir, who had destituted Rama Shah and made Bir Singh the king of Orchha. The palace has 136 rooms.

It is a three-storied square shaped building with bastions at the corners, very similar to the residential part of Raja Mahal in its architecture but with greater embellishments. It has a square shaped central courtyard with 5 fountains in the centre. The first floor has beautifully decorated rooms in the middle of the four sides along with terraces from where you can look down at the courtyard. Just like Raja Mahal, the second storey also has slightly receding terraces in the middle on the four sides.

Courtyard, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

It has more carvings, sculptures and chhattris compared to the Raja Mahal. For example, underneath the terraces, there are stone elephants supporting them.

Elephant supports under the terrace, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

One important difference from Raja Mahal is the staircase that leads up to the western terrace from the central courtyard. The doors are also heavily carved. For example, the door leading to the western entrance has carvings of inverted kalash and elephants on it.

Sculpted door-beams, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Another example of embellishments in this building are the groups of smaller and bigger chhattris, that were decorated with blue coloured tiles. The ribbed central domes of the bigger chhattris are similar to those at Hampi in south India. Octagonal domes (chhattris) and the figures of lotuses and elephants abound in the construction.

The southern end of the palace has an imposing and majestic main entrance gate with carvings of elephants on the two sides. This is a five-storied structure, a chhajja marking each storey.

Main entrance, Jahangir Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Its construction have traditional Indic elements such as trabeated entrance doors with horizontal beams. At the same time, Mughal and Persian influences can also be seen, for example in the arcuate structures, specially inside the building. These are amalgamated into Rajasthani architecture, giving rise to the Bundela style. However it lacks the surrounding walls with numerous arched windows inspired from European Gothic architecture that can be seen in the Raja Mahal.

Hamam khana adjoining Jahangir Mahal was also built in 1606. It is made like a Persian hammam (bath house) with a decorated water pool. The roof of this building has a water reservoir.

Roof of Hammam Khana, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - images by Sunil Deepak

Parveen Rai's Mahal

This palace was built during the care-taker reign of Indrajit Singh in late 16th and early 17th century, while his brother Rama Shah stayed at the court of emperor Akbar. You can read more about the beautiful courtesan Praveen Rai and her love story with the king in my post about legends of Orchha.

Raveen Rai Mahal, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Oonth Khana (Camel house)

This square shaped building is located to the east of Jahangir Mahal. It is located on a raised area. Originally it was a baradari built in 16th century but in late 17th century a raised corridor was built all around it with arched gates on each side.

Oonthkhana, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Its name suggests that it was a stable for camels. From outside the building looks plain but it is decorated from inside. The rings on its roofs suggest that swings were fixed there. Thus, many persons believe that originally it was a pleasure pavillion from where the royals could relax and look at the Betwa river and surrounding forest while enjoying the breeze on the swings.

Temples, gardens and noble houses inside the fort

During the reign of Bir Singh Deo, many local nobles and royal associates had built their kothis and havelis (villas and big houses) inside the fort including those of Balwant Daua, Champat Rai, Bakasrai Pradhan and the poet Keshav Rai. These buildings (Dauji's kothi, Himma Hamir kothi, Fasiyane ki Kothi) are in ruins. If you do not have the time to go out and explore the grounds of Orchha fort, these can also be seen from the windows of the Jahangir Mahal.

Ruins of old kothis, havelis and temples, Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

There are also many temples inside the fort such as the Vanvasi Ram temple near the Oonth khana. The fort also had many gardens.

For lack of time, I did not visit the vast grounds of the fort, that are covered with trees and plants and paths leading to the river. Ruins of noble houses and old temples dot the whole area. For the archaeology enthusiasts, this area offers hours and days of exploration and discoveries.

Conclusions

Orchha fort with its beautiful palaces and rich history requires many days for a proper exploration of all its wonders. Even in the one morning that I spent there, I came back with wonderful memories of its beautiful courtyards, wall paintings, symmetries of delicate terraces and chhattris.

Orchha fort, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The fort is also linked with different legends about which I had written in another post. If you want to know more about Orchha, you may also check my following posts on this theme:

(1) Exploring the many splendours of Bundelkhand

(2) Discovering the beautiful architecture of Orchha

(3) Legends and stories of Orchha


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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Meet the artist and sculptor: Corrado Meneguzzo

Some months ago I visited the house of an Italian artist and sculptor called Corrado Meneguzzo. It was an opportunity to look at some of his works and to talk to him about his art.


The above image shows one of Corrado's art installations. The art does not arise in a vacuum, it is molded and guided by the life-experiences and living-contexts of the artists. I love visiting artists in their homes and to listen to them talk about their works.

Visit to Corrado Meneguzzo

Corrado lives and works at the top of a hill in a relatively isolated area of a small alpine commune called Priabona, a few km from Schio in the north-east of Italy, where I live. The visit to Corrado was organised by a friend, Roberto, for a local cultural group. We were a group of about 15 persons. (In the image below, Corrado, wearing blue jeans and blue shirt, is in the centre)


When we reached his home, Corrado was waiting for us with an illustrator friend, Luca.  From his isolated and drenched-in-silence home-studio on the top of a verdant hill, we could see the houses and the church in the tiny commune of Priabona far below us. Except for an old abandoned church with a bell tower, there were no other buildings or people living nearby.



Corrado explained that archaeological objects from the neolithic and from the Lombard invasion periods (6-7th century CE) have been found in the area around his house. He said that this idea of living in area which is on a continuum of ancient human settlements for thousands of years, is very important to his sense of being an artist.

Corrado's artistic background

He explained, "I grew in a house in the valley below with my grandfather who used to make wooden objects. My step-father used to decorate churches. My uncle Giobatta brought artists to our town and I had been visiting his museum ever since I was young. All this sparked my interest in art. When I was seventeen, I took part in a collective exhibition in the Casabianca museum. I did a diploma in architecture focusing on old painting techniques. But studying art was more of a personal endeavor."

One of his first works as a sculptor-artist was to find and renovate an old house on the top of the hill, that was a crumbling ruin, and make his studio-home in it. He says that he did almost all the renovation by himself, one step at a time (Corrado's home in the image below).


Just outside his house there are displayed different old art installations including a few wooden sculptures and some chairs made of different materials including old truck tyres, mostly from 2005-06.


Corrado explained that in the 1990s he used to work more with stones. Then he shifted to cement. Around 2006-07 he did a lot of work with old tyres. Now he likes to work with wood. In between he also does paintings. He feels that each material has its own voice and it tells him what it wishes to communicate.

He took us to a short visit to some of his installations spread out in the open areas and grassy slopes around his house.

The Confessional

Corrado's home is located behind an old abandoned church with a bell-tower on a hillock rising behind it. From the hillock, you can look down on the other side of the hill in the valley below towards Malo and the road going towards Vicenza 25 km away.


He started the visit to his works by taking us up the hillock, behind the bell-tower. This brought us to an art installation called "the Confessional". Built in wood and painted in black, the confessional looks more like a pulpit. Personally, its design made me think of a guillotine where they could behead persons.


Corrado explained that as a child, his mother took him regularly to the Catholic church. He was a three years old child and was supposed to confess his sins to the priest. Since he was tiny, sitting at the confessional he could only see the legs of the priest sitting inside.

He didn't seem to have pleasant memories of those visits and through this installation made in 2011, evoked the feelings of dread and sadness that the confessionals represented for him. His religion related experiences seemed to play an important influence on his art.

Feeding trough for birds

It is an installation made from an old feeding trough that was used in the past for giving hay to the cows. Corrado had turned it in a standing position and then fixed a small red cup to the top, which holds water for the birds. It was an installation on the transformation of objects, that he had made some 10-11 years ago.


Suitcases

The concrete moulds of the old suitcases were made for a project called "Interpreting America" in 2011. These represented the emigrants who used to leave Europe with with their belongings closed in old suitcases, leaving their homes to search for a new and better life somewhere else. Today, the emigrants from Africa and from the different wars, are a new version of the age-old search for security and well-being.


The cement moulds of the suitcases were brought back to Corrado's home after the end of the exhibition, and were left out in the garden. With time, moss and grass has grown in those molds, giving an idea of decay and at the same time, bringing them to life.

The Womb Window

For me, this installation of a vaginal opening made in dark concrete and fitted with a red grill was the most provocative sculpture of Corrado. When I saw it, I thought that it symbolised the violence against the women and the horrible practice of female genital mutilation, still common in some communities/countries especially in Africa and Middle east. It is also prevalent among the Bohra community in India.


However, Corrado gave a completely different interpretation of this work. He said that it represented his mother. The red grill was supposed to be his window, behind which he used to stand as a child and look out at the world from the safety and the security of his mother's protection.

The Angel Chairs

Over the past couple of years, Corrado has been sculpting chairs, especially the "angel chairs" or the chairs with wings. He has been experimenting with different kinds of materials and techniques for making these chairs.

One of the chairs that he was working on, was placed in the veranda of his studio. It was huge and made with rough wood. It was shaped like a broken angel, a kind of Milo's Venus transformed into a chair. I really loved this sculpture.


Inside the studio, there were different chairs in wood, lacquered with a shining red paint, that he was completing for an exhibition to be held in Los Angles. He explained that making of each of these chairs took around 400 hours of work. These are part of his "Seat Art" project.


There was many other chair-sculptures in his studio including a more traditional looking wooden chair painted in red and with the sign of cross on its back, with a rosary wrapped on its back; and another made with wood and an old tyre.


Paintings

The studio also had different paintings by Corrado. One of his old paintings had a woman dressed in black standing near a lake.


A lot of his paintings were about female genitals dripping blood. This brought back to my mind our discussion in his garden about the sculpture of the vagina with the red grill. Though he had explained that sculpture in more happy terms, I think that his art represents some unresolved issues with women and sexuality.


Another of his paintings was a nude self-portrait (click on the image below for a larger view).


Conclusions

If I had seen any one of his art works displayed in an art gallery or in a museum, it would have given me a certain idea about Corrado as an artist and as a person. Looking at his home and at the different works he has done over the past 20 years and listening to him talk about them, gave me a different kind of understanding about his art.

Of all his artistic works, the one which I would like to own, if I had sufficient space to display it properly, would be the "Broken angel" chair. I think that this choice represents my own preference for romantic and good-looking art. In terms of emotional impact, I think that my vote will go to the "Womb Window" or the "Suitcases", though I wouldn't like to own them, as I found them disturbing.

I had asked Corrado, which of his art works was the one that he felt closest to his heart. He had answered that probably it was the Confessional or perhaps the painting of the woman in black.

If you could choose only one of his art works, which one would you choose and why?

Let me conclude this post with a tiny art work of Corrado from the hill-top behind his house. Apparently it looks like a weather-wane. Take a good look at the form - is it a bird or an animal or an angel?

Weather-wane, Art of Corrado Meneguzzo, Priabona (VI), Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

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