I visit Sudha in her home near Wilsonville, Oregon. This is a spacious, light-filled contemporary-style home that looks like it was designed to display and enjoy art (Sudha designed it). It has a very open layout, with large windows that create an expansive sense of space. Sudha's paintings and sculptures abound and are displayed with their art collection. Mount Hood, in all of its splendor, can be seen in the distance across a rolling autumn landscape.
I am reminded of why I attempt to visit people in their own space/environment Simply experiencing a person's unique environment speaks volumes on who they are. As we view Sudha's large assortment of paintings and sculpture, it becomes clear that she is very diverse in both her art and her life and very at peace with it alL In her graphic work, she seems at home in several different styles; she works in very large and small scale (we look at her award-winning, 6'xlO' painting, "The Ganges'').
Her sculptural creations also cover a wide range. Stone carvings in alabaster, marble, chlorite, granite, jade, and basalt. She also works in ceramic, cast bronze, and most recently, glass. She seems to be an avid experimenter and learner. I came to talk to a sculptor and got a many-faceted creator who loves to cook and garden. She seems to allow herself to move with the creative impulse very effectively. I can't help but think she is something of a three-dimensional painting herself (she is often wrapped in silk "saris''). She has a gentle grace about her.
SS: What balance do you work between your painting and your sculpture?
SA: I don't have a plan. I just get into something, do it for awhile, then do something else. I have some very good work areas (an inside graphics area where she often works on the floor for large works, an area in the pool building where she paints and sculpts, a garage for clay and stone work and a barn for stationary grinding). But I don't like closed spaces when I'm sculpting, so I sculpt outside in the summer and I paint in the winter. That's how it worked out. With the breeze and the bird-song and the mountains, it's so inspirational. I just really love it.
I like to paint also. I belong to the International Experimental Society of Painters. You don't see anything traditional about my paintings. It's about freedom to create and have your own technique. There is an international show with members from around the world. They get together to paint and have a newsletter. They have regional symposiums. I go to Florida and paint for two weeks. All this is possible for me because of Patrick (Sudha's husband - both are psychiatrists in private practice). He is so encouraging. He's really my inspiration. If he wasn't behind me, I don't think I'd be doing all this. It's so demanding.
SS: And it sounds like you've found a personal balance with your art and your life. And having a supportive spouse is a god-send.
SA: He is so generous about wanting to make it happen for me. He covers my patients. He is so pleasant about me being gone, and then about coming to participate in my art activities and then the receiving hundreds of phone calls ... (An air of hawks soar by on the Oregon wind) I'm not under any pressure with shows and galleries so I do what generally pleases me. Fortunately for me, the galleries I'm in accommodate that to meet my time schedule.
SS: How do you organize your life? You seem to almost have three careers: psychiatrist, painter, sculptor. Anyone of those could fully engage a person. (Sudha even created a silk import business for two years.)
SA: People ask, "How do you do it?" It seems to come together. Sometimes I have to work at it, but most of the time it seems to fall into place.
SS: How long have you been doing all this?
SA: Painting ten years and sculpture eight years. I like to learn different techniques; glass fascinates me. It's like three-dimensional painting. Sometimes I think, oh, maybe I should put all my time into one medium, but I think I like the variety.
SS: What results from working in such different areas?
SA: My glass instructor aid my glass work was painterly. Others say my paintings are sculptural, which means you create a three-dimensional effect in your paintings. I guess one helps the other very much. Drawing certainly helps sculpture.
SS: Do you think drawmg can help when you're doing "direct" (spontaneous) carving?
SA: I like to direct carve. Sometimes I conceptualize the piece by drawing it from different views although it may not end up that way. I have not been successful at making a maquene; it's not my style.
SS: When did you move to the U. S.?
SA: 1973. I did my graduate work in London. I actually lived a few miles from Henry Moore. I'm really influenced by that group: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp. My favorite artist is Antonio Guadi. He was know for his architecture. His architecture is sculptural. (She also mentions Donetello, Alexandro Pamodoro, David Smith, and Georgia O'Keefe.
SS: Do you find inspiration from Guadi's work in your sculpture?
SA: I think it's a summation of all these people I have admired.
SS: How did your upbringing in India affect your art?
SA: When I was seven, I remember looking up at an old temple sculpture and thinking about sculptors chiseling and making dust as they created these figures.
SS: How does your cultural experience affect what you do now?
SA: Being brought up in the sophisticated and cosmopolItan Bangalore area, I was encouraged to have the ability to do anything that can be done. Some of my paintings show the Tantric influence. (We walk around and view her art. We look at a piece of stone sculpture in yule marble, a 16" long "Lingmn" phallus shape - "part of the creative force." She tells about her adventure getting the piece through the airport x-ray machine and explaining that "it was just a stone." We look at a small standing figure in Colorado Yule marble, and "Black Iris" an abstracted lily form in chlonte.)
SS: What are your favorite stones to work with?
SA: Marble is my favorite, with all its colors. Even though I like the white marble, it's tiring after awhile. I like stone with more of the inclusions. And I like the harder stones: granite, basalt.
SS: Is there something about a stone that has more character, shape or color to it that might enthuse you to do something with it?
SA: I let the stone inspire me. (She tells about coming to her first symposium 1991/92 showing up in her silk shirt and red hat (trademarks) without any tools. George Pratt helped her get started and loaned her his tools. She chose to carve a face marble.) He has started so many people that way. That same year I went to the Marble, Colorado, symposium because I wanted to learn this. They gave me this 7' grinder and said "go for it" I didn't know any tools then. Initially I was intimidated but, with encouragement, I learned. (Most of the time, I liked using the 4" grinder.) I don't like to carve away too much stone. (We look at a female torso in realistic style with a dramatic opening to the abdominal area.)
SS: Is the opening a conscious thing or...
SA: It's just a "Iet-us-see-what-happens" thing. It's a free-associating thing.
SS: When you go back to it, does it have a rational meaning for you?
SA: It's a highly erotic piece. It was hard for me to do that (cut in the void because it was such a good figure form) but sometimes you want to not be so attached to that (perfect form).
SS: (We look at "Shiva", a male torso 3' tall in a thin slab of chlorite.) Your pieces have radically different styles. Why is that?
SA: It's a different day. It's a different me. If you watch the colors (in her painting), they're similar. I can't get away from that (brilliant primary colors) (We look at her fused glass, and small cast glass. She is excited about her recent experiments.)
SS: Do you have a preference in the sculptural media you use?
SA: I like stone a lot But then, I like the spontaneous too. And now the translucency and luminosity of glass is getting to me. (We discuss an alabaster figure "Parvathi" - Shiva's consort.) This piece evolved from the curved cut of the grinder mark on the stone into a torso form. At one viewpoint, it looks like there are two figures. That's what I aim for - a sculpture that has rhythmic lines from any angle. It doesn't matter if it has an identifiable shape or not as long as that works. That's what I'm interested in.
SS: So you don't have a clear preference between realistic and abstract style?
SA: I'm intrigued with the human form becanse of that pleasing line from all viewpoints. More so in the female form. (We look at her new fused glass panels and talk about their color.) That's how I see work in one media supporting the other. My interest in painting helps me with design. Glass, oh, it's fascinating. It reminds me of coming to the symposium for the first time and seeing all the different stones. I was like a linle kid following the piper.
SS: How do you find your art work relates to your work in psychiatry?
SA: They're very interrelated. They connect free association and logical thinking. A good physician is an intuitive physician. A great physician-scientist doesn't make a healing physician. A physician who blends the art of conveying his science to the patient makes a great physician. So I think it's absolutely interrelated. Also, I have the knowledge of so many souls, intimately, more than most people (having worked with many people). And that stays with me; it shows up in places I'm not even watching out for.
SS: Do you use drawing in your therapy?
SA: With children I use it a lot They don't know how to tell you their sorrows. But if you let them tell you a story about their drawing, you've got all that infonnation. It's non-threatening. You can talk in third person.
(We tour her carving area in the garage. We view several sculptures in process then move to admire her collection of stone: large pieces of jade, granite, many types and colors of marble, and basalt laid out for viewing around her outside carving area.)
SS: How do you do your lifting?
SA: All by hand with the help of others (often it's Patrick). Soon I'll buy an engine hoist. I'll learn how to strap and lift. I don't think there is anything like doing it yourself to learn how to do it. (We look at a 4' high triangular column of black granite and she describes her plans. "I'll leave it simple, work the edges, add a circle here, and polish it."
SS: Do you find the physical part of stone carving difficult?
SA: In medicine I got accustomed to being in a position of gi~ng. To ask for help is hard (in moving things and such), but I learned to get help. I'm now physically stronger than I've ever been in my life and I pace myself in the work, alternating tasks to ease the stress.
SS: How often do you work?
SA: Whenever I have time. It's actually in spurts, between traveling and other activities.
SS: It seems your whole story is about traveling, experimenting, learning and creating. Were you encouraged by your family to do art?
SA: More in the performing arts. My mother was a concert vocalist in Indian classical music. I can't carry a tune. I remember my father taking me to a local collection when I was a linle girl. There was a painting of a woman holding an oil lamp in which the lamp is burning, illumined. I went over to see what's behind the painting, lighting the lamp, and hit my head on the wall. It thought it was so beautiful that someone could do that. My interest was medicine at the time and my parents supported that.
SS: What are your major themes?
SA: The human figure. In my paintings a lot of times, the soul comes through. As the figure, it's the form and the line, the grace; I really feel it. In my abstract work, it is shape-for-shape-sake when I am sculpting the piece. But when I look retrospectively, the shapes seem to represent some part of the human body.
SS: What would you say the origins of your art are?
SA: I think it's the intuitiveness. It comes from the soul. And intellect defines it. But you couldo't do it from smarts alone. When you look at things in retrospect, you analyze and get insight into it. When I look back and think "why am I doing this?" I realize my philosophy of us being here is "have fun and leave the place a little more beautiful." I've achieved that in medicine. I've relieved pain and suffering and comforted patients. Hopefully in my art, I'll leave something behind. In my home life, I think I make Patrick happy. I do struggle with some of my art when it doesn't achieve what I want as soon as I want. In some pieces, pain does surface. As long as I'm not fully confident of the technique, then I'm conscious of what I'm doing. Once I know the technique, I let it happen. And then things show up. And most of them end up being an exuberant expression of myself.
SS: Thanks, Sudha.
Note: Sudha has been a board member for the 96-97 term acting as liaison to Oregon members and is just finishing helping review our bi-laws. She arranged and organized an upcoming stonecarvers show at the Oregon capital building. She also helped organize the last Silver Falls stone carving symposium at which she was an instructor. She is represented by Nancy Jordan, Inc. (Seattle), Art Inc. (Portland, Oregon), and Charlotte's Gallery (Sun River, Oregon). She has had shows at the Medical Association (portland. Oregon) and Intel Corp. (Portland. Oregon), and the State Capital Building (Salem, Oregon). She also shows with Sitka (a non-profit group promoting art and ecology).
As I arrive at his home George is showing his sculpture to some customers at his dining room table. It is a nicely appointed room; the pieces are displayed in an attractive showcase and on various surfaces around the room. They are lighted with spotlights. Most are smaller pieces carved from marble and jade. His customers select two of the bird forms in Rainforest Marble. The birds are balanced so that they pivot on their plate-glass bases. George wraps them up and writes a personal note to accompany them. On the way out the door one of the people puts a 'hold' on one of the sculptures on the shelf.
GP: You see, those people who buy that little coffee-table sculpture for a wedding gift- they also work somewhere-perhaps at a firm downtown that would have influence on doing public artwork. The guy who owns one of your smaller works may be the one who will recommend you to be purchased into the corporate art collection.
We then head off to George's studio a few blocks away near Vancouver's Chinatown. It is a one-story industrial building with a paved surrounding yard right next to the train tracks. Trains occasionally thunder by...
GP: It's difficult for sculptors to find suitable downtown space to do their dirty work. A screaming diamond grinder will bring an irate neighbor faster than anything I know. I have a wonderful shop immediately adjacent to the railway tracks. If you think I make a little noise or dust, you should see what the railroad does! So they can hardly blow the whistle on me.
We proceed to tour his studio. We look at his 'Shadow Garden', a collection of large river boulders gathered together in a grouping. Each boulder is carved with different patterns of line and texture, hewn deeply to emphasize the shadow effect of sunlight shifts and with depressions designed to catch rain. We move mto the studio and view a work in progress-a large horse's head in startling blue sodalite which will be featured in his November show.
GP: It needs to be a little more 'equine', more graceful of line. Up to now it has the character of a carousel pony. Simplicity is the name of my game. Strength and power through simplicity.
The discussion shifts to showing sculpture.
GP: You'll find few people attempting to make a living carving stone who've had a successful relationship with a gallery. Few gallery owners know how to present sculpture. Most have a tendency to put the sculpture in the corner as an adjunct to their paintings. Few will actually feature sculpture nor light it properly.
Michael Binkley and I had our own gallery for two years. We made it a policy to show only sculpture abetted by lots of flowers in stone vases. There was not a painting in the place, because much as we like paintings, they steal the focus from sculpture and we wanted to make sales. And sell we did - a tremendous amount of sculpture from that delightful little showroom, both of us building our collector base tremendously. It was well lit with spotlights-a must if you want to sell sculpture. As you can tell, I'm opinionated about these things. But that is what has helped me survive. I've seen people set up home sculpture shows but they don't go to the trouble of installing proper lights, i.e., focused spotlights on every sculpture. It's half the battle. (Another of George's interesting opinions is that assigning a title to a sculpture can interfere with a sale if the client can't relate to the title. He tags his works with only generic descriptions.)
SS: When you price a piece of sculpture, what are the considerations? Why do you price the sodalite horse's head at $10,000?
GP: Clearly I didn't work it out 'by the hour'. The price in this case reflects an arbitrary value I have placed on its uniqueness and elegance, a factor that goes beyond the hard cost of producing it. It's priced for mystique, not practicality. However,l must know in my heart that the piece will be perceived to be worth the money. It may not sell. But who wants to be seen at a show where everything is cheap? What art writers would care to write about it? There are many people among us to whom $10,000 for a fine artwork is not significant. Such people do not want to buy what everybody can buy. They seek out that which is rare as well as beautiful. At our last Faces & Figures show, I sold a $15,000 piece and in the one previous, Michael sold a $19,000 piece and I sold a $6,000 piece both to one customer. Those people will be back to our next show with their friends-and they will be expecting an encore of something equally worthy. But as well, one's show must have many works priced between $250 and $750. There is an army of ordinary working people out there who love sculpture and they can and will put that amount on their credit card.
We examine the horse's head.
GP: I made this for our biannual Faces & Figures show about five years ago. It started out as a massive block of soda lite from a quarry near my home town in northern Ontario. It is a splendid stone, profound blue, nicer than the Lapis Lazulis you've seen. I showed it as a finished work, but although it was competent and adequate, it never really pleased me. It was not exciting. It was a playground pony rather than a spirited mare. So I put it away out of sight for four years and have now started recutting it. And I can already see that in this year's show it will convey the excitement it lacked before. Horses are not my forte, I should point out. I've had to struggle with this one. But it was almost a horse when I found it in the quarry.
SS: So what was your thinking in reworking it?
GP: I thought, if I do recut it, will it be a better sculpture? Or will it just be a waste of time? I firstly had to figure out what was wrong with it. After a four-year cooling off period it was easy to look at it clinically rather than passionately and see that the main problem was too much weight in the throat and an indistinct jaw-line. As well, the ears needed to be more drawn out and graceful. Clearly there was a more elegant horse lurking in there, it just needed some tweaking. So I got started recutting. I want a lot of money for it, so let's make it worth the money. I'll be also working on slightly 'doming' the flat bottom so that the horse will rotate when gently pushed. I discovered that in sanding the flat bottoms of my 'coffeetable' sculptures they have a tendency to round off. If the center of the resultant 'dome' be near the balance point of the carving, then it will rotate on its base, lending an agreeable kinetic value that a stationary piece does not have. It has become a trademark.
I love art. 1 love sculpture. But I've never considered myself to be a great artist. I go to the symposia and I'm envious of the abilities some of those sculptors possess, novices and experienced artists alike. I could take a lesson from most of them. My natural skill is in making sales. I genuinely like people and can relate well to almost anybody. I can sell things to people who didn't intend to buy in the first place. In the beginning, I didn't give much conscious thought as to whether I could be a success as a stone-carver. I just knew that even if I wasn't very good at it I'd still make lots of sales. I encourage all aspiring sculptors to work hardest on the sales part of their career. I hear some who say loftily that the purity of their work is all that counts and they will never compromise their principles merely to make sales. And that is very noble. But it usually ensures a career as a waitress or taxi-driver.
We tour George's studio. We visit the 'wet' room in which he does his waterfed carving and polishing. He has a drill press for core-drilling with water, a station with 10" x 1/4" carving blade running at 3400 RPM, and a station for sanding with both silicone carbide and diamond belts. (The carbide belts are not as aggressive but they are more flexible, he explains.) All machines are driven by permanently wired 220V electric motors. The room has a floor-drain to carry away the carving slurry into a cleanable catch basin. As well, he has a 20" diamond chopsaw which results in an 8" cutting depth, used for getting his raw material down to a carvable size with little waste. He considers this to be an essential for the serious carver. His compressor and air-powered carving gear as well as hand tools are in the main room, He
likes to work on pieces in progress in the outdoor yard where he also store his raw material. About the shop are example of 'utilitarian art' as he calls it: Granite benches and garden lanterns; stone oil-lamps and flowervases; and an attractive business-card caddy made with granite cores set in a concave base. He produced two hundred of these last year for presentation gifts for a bank. More hard work than
great art, he comments, but it paid the rent. "If you reserve the ability to make utilitarian items you can stay alive as a sculptor."
SS: What balance do you try to achieve between utilitarian items and fine art pieces?
GP: In a perfect world I would like to produce nothing but pure art sculptures the size of a bread-box. One can start and finish such works before one gets bored with them and they fetch respectable money when they sell. And they are large enough to be thought of as important. Good for the ego, very collectible for the corporate lobby. That I'd like to be able to do with no interruption. But there's always the nagging practicality of making sales, So the preponderance of my work is in pieces smaller than a loaf of bread-mostly animals and birds and small human (mostly female) figures. About 70% of what I have survived on has been those kinds of pieces. The other 30% has been 'larger-than-a-bread-box', in fact sometimes quite massive. It's nice to get a commission for a large public art-work. But such works tend to be better for the ego than they are for the pocketbook. They take a lot of energy and can result in a big-time vexation to the spirit.
SS: Note: George's resume includes "The Builders", a 21'-high composition of large black granite blocks and polished bronze figures located in a Calgary office complex. The commission included doing all phases of construction and installation for a price of $150,000, taking seven months. Among others, he promoted and co-created a multi-figure life-size installation depicting an Eskimo myth of the Sea Goddess Sedna. (George carved the Sedna figure which was seven feet high, carved from a 13,000 lb. piece of Arctic marble,) Three Eskimo carvers created accompanying figures of the animals over which Sedna rules. The pieces were carved at a wilderness marble site near Cape Dorset on Baffin Island (with many difficulties) and then transported to Toronto for installation in the corporate lobby of The Royal Trust Company. Commission price was $230,000.
GP: I am negotiating just now for a large public work which will be similar to an 'inukshuk', which is a structure of natural stones assembled into a human form. These forms are built by Eskimo people in the Arctic and are often used as markers for travel.
We look at the foam models for this potential piece. He has set aside two massive granite quarry-blocks at Quadra Stone's yard, each measuring 20 feet in length. These will be the 'legs' for his inukshuk.
GP: The stone is now in angular blocks, but I want them to look like worn river-stones, akin to the shape of huge french-sticks. My inukshuk will not have a secret, inner meaning. It will simply be a huge, carefully balanced sculpture of great mass and power. And its power will be, in its simplicity, there being only five pieces in the structure.
We look at George's sculptured benches, including one he describes as 'The Palliasse' bench. (Look it up in the dictionary.) At 4' long by 18" wide, it is made to look like a padded blanket or pillow which is flowing like a magic carpet. The flowing curves make it comfortable to sit on at any position. The base block is carved with rippling waves and shadow-lines.
SS: I know you don't profess to have any hidden 'meaning' in your pieces, but what were your thoughts when you were doing a work like 'Shadow Garden'?
GP: I'm not entirely into birds and bears. This work is total fantasy, no one piece being identifiable as a known creature or thing. Each is carved to maximize the effect of texture and shadow and form. Will it sell? I don't know. But in a departure from the eternal practicality of making a living that I have been harping about, 1 feel that I must do it and to hell with whether it sells or not. Not like me.
SS: How did you get into stone carving?
GP: I had worked at various industria I sales jobs. In 1970 I took a job selling high quality business furniture, which opened up the world of design and art for me. It was like being born again. I was surrounded by designers and architects. I learned the joy there can be in simplicity. I met my mentor, E.B. Cox, who was the first stone carver in Canada to work in the scale of the 'coffee-table' sculpture. I became obsessed with his work and his life-style and I pestered him mercilessly to show me how it was done. I carved at every spare moment, learning all I could from E.B. and experimenting with methods of my own. By 1972 I had produced a small collection of very humble little carvings and was encouraged to sell eight of them at a craft show that year. So I worked at it all the harder, eventually spending more time at carving than at my job. I moved to Vancouver in 1975, doing two shows a year at my home for the next 13 years, building up a stable of collectors and getting much better at the craft. Eventually the business built up and 1 took my last regular paycheck from a job in 1979.
SS: How do you see yourself as a teacher?
GP: I seem to know most of the things you have to know to make a sculpture. I don't pretend that I'm teaching people much about art. There are so many good artists in our association. But I carve stone every day and there are not many problems about producing sculpture that I have not encountered. So I have a let to teach people who seek knowledge. I like people who like stone. I'll be at the Cowichan Lake symposium in September and Silver Falls again in the spring.
George seems to embody the notion of "Just do it." He is generous, if opinionated, as well as energetic, very productive and encouraging of others, a fact to which many in this group can attest. He is one of the founding members of the association. He is a regular instructor at our symposia, in which he shares his knowledge of tools, process, and sales. He also occasionally shares articles about tools or carving processes in this newsletter (a collection of which he promises is getting ever closer to being a book for stone-carvers.) Many thanks, George, for all you've contributed!