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Posted at: Jun 27, 2015, 12:32 AM; last updated: Jun 26, 2015, 10:57 PM (IST)

Nature’s child who breathed life into metal

Noted sculptor and painter Shiv Singh’s dexterity and command over his muse pulsated in more than one way and in more than one medium. He tamed volatile water colours with effortless ease.

Renowned sculptor and painter Shiv Singh is no more. Those who had been keeping tabs on his ailing health perhaps knew that his end was near. However, for those who knew him in happier and healthier times he was ageless. Indeed, perennially attired in his trademark black clothes, dash of orange  peeping out of his turban, it was near impossible to guess the man born in 1938, in village Bassi Ghulam Hussain in Hoshiarpur district had seen 77 summers go by. 

Actually, for him seasons of nature were not just ticks on the calendar. Nature and its varying moods were his constant companions and the fountainhead of inspiration from where treasure trove of images emanated. Be it his vibrant water colours, organic natural forms in metal sculptures or his site-specific works, the childhood years spent watching the gushing choes, creating art objects out of sarkandas remained with him till the very last and shaped his artistic sensibilities. Not that he, an alumnus of Chandigarh College of Art ( in late 1950s it was Government Art and Craft School at Shimla), believed that artists are born.  Practice makes a man perfect and an artist more so... so he deemed.  Though he learnt many kinds of crafts, from inlay to jewellery making, there was nothing crafty about his work. Spontaneity was the key to his creativity that pervaded all his compositions. Those who thought he was fibbing when he would say, “I have no premeditated thoughts or concepts when I start working” only had to be privy to the artist in him at the art workshops.  Starting from a single point, his images gushed forth like a torrent and fused into one whole, united in an infinite fashion — without an end or beginning. 

Come to think of it there was no definitive imagery in his abstract and fluid creations even though erotica was his favourite subject. The only time his erotic images became perceptible and stirred a hornet’s nest was when his drawing series Women and Bull created quite a stir in 1993 and offended puritans. 

This Shiv of art-world of Shakti would scoff at this hypocritical stance and wonder aloud, “How can we ignore eroticism…after all there is nothing more powerful than the symbols of fertility?” Not surprising, he consistently continued to find forms in its ceaseless expanse. More recently his exhibition titled Discovery in Erotica Art too stood testimony to his preoccupation with what he considered the genesis of creativity.  In his water-colour compositions, the imagery at times alluded to yoni and lingam, at other points it became more evocative yet it remained pregnant with hidden meaning and layers. His dexterity and command over his muse pulsated in more than one way and in more than one medium.  He tamed volatile water colours with an effortless ease. In his hands metal became so malleable that it breathed with a life force so strong one could feel its latent energy.     

 His detractors would often be dismissive and accuse him of repeating himself. The more discerning could sense a thread of continuity and the artist himself would impress upon how influences and impressions had been embedded deep within him as part of his subconscious. He didn’t succumb to new fads and trends. He found no reason to depart from his chosen path and style that took him to places like the prestigiousTriennale  and won him honours such as National Award in Sculpture in 1979 and the President of India’s Silver Plaque for the best exhibit of the year 1982.  If some honours eluded him, he didn’t fret as he knew honours don’t decide an artist’s worth or calibre.  Man of few words he didn’t wax eloquent about his works and let them speak of their own volition in a language that was at once enchanting and sublimated. Those who have judged his artistic prowess might have shied away from conferring the epithet great on him. Today if one were to take stock of his oeuvre spanning decades and in museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, National Academy of Art (Lalit Kala Akademi) Delhi Chandigarh Museum, Panjab University Museum, State Museum, Shimla, Hack Museum, Ludiwiqshaften, Glaub Art Museum, Koln (Germany) Haryana State Tourism (Tourist Resort), his singular position in the annals of art can’t be challenged. As and when history of artists from Punjab would be written his name would precede most and be emblazoned in letters as permanent as forces of nature.  Nature’s own child in life he was one with nature and would remain ever so. The life of an artist can only be measured by his artistic legacy. shiv singh, along with his German wife Gisela made Panchkula his home and enriched the tricity with his artistic impulses. Black, the colour of the moonless night, he might have carried on his persona like second skin. But posterity would remember his vibrant and effervescent colour palette and tactile sculptures, all of which have a life beyond death and mortality.


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