Monday, August 21, 2006

Wah Wagh!

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times
The third generation Wagh sculptors are still going strong

Shevlin Sebastian

“One person from Sakori placed an order for a statue of Shirdi Sai Baba,” says sculptor Vinay Wagh, 45. “It took about four months to make. This was a statue on which I worked single-handedly.” A few months later, when the client called, Wagh told him the statue was ready. But the client insisted it was not ready.

“How can you say that?” Wagh remembers saying. “I have been working on it myself. I know it is ready.” He urged Wagh to inspect the two fingers of the right hand, which was placed below the knees. “Without disconnecting the phone, I went and looked underneath the hand and saw that the separation of the fingers was not up to the mark,” says the sculptor. “What should I think? My only conclusion: God is there. Otherwise, how do you explain it? Nobody else was working on the statue.”

When the client arrived, Wagh asked him how he was able to spot the error from so far away. “He said, ‘When you told me the statue was ready, I felt a pain in my finger,’” says Wagh. “‘That is why I felt some work still remained.’”

This is one of the most profound experiences of Wagh in over 30 years of work as a sculptor. In the window of his studio on Chowpatty, there are plaster of paris replicas of Mother Teresa, Madhavrao Scindia, Swami Chinmayananda, Bhagat Singh, Shivaji, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Inside, the floor has a thin layer of white dust while the velvet green sofas have seen better days. Amidst all this sits Wagh, the third generation of the family, which have making sculptures for the past 94 years. His grandfather, Vinayakrao, was officially appointed to make a sculpture of Lord Hardinge, the first Viceroy of India, while his father, Brahmesh, was appointed as sculptor to the President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad.

As for Vinay Wagh, he says one of the most memorable statues he has made was of Karan Singh’s grandfather, Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, riding a horse.
“To make the horse in clay took me eight months,” says Wagh. “I went to the racecourse to study horses. I made sketches. I took photographs. I met the trainers. I tried to figure out what type of posture the horse should have: should it be the walk, the canter, the gallop or the trot.”

In the end, he selected the trot. When the statue was being made, he invited trainers to come and see it, so that they could offer advise on the correct position of the horse and the posture of the rider. “Where should the Maharaja sit? What should be the position of the feet? Where would he hold the reins?” says Wagh. “What should the dress be like? Singh was of medium height, so I needed a model of that height to resemble him.”

Father of the nation
Among the many statues he has done, he has made several of Mahatma Gandhi. One such statue, a bust, can be found in the lobby of the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya. It is the familiar one of a bespectacled Gandhi, with the bald head, the sticking out ears, the wrinkled forehead and a hint of a smile on his face. It seems very real and even though the eye cavities are empty, you almost sense that he is looking at you. That is how good the sculpture is.

“Wagh has got the face of Gandhi perfectly,” says Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, 59, executive secretary of the bhavan. “Wagh was given the commission because his family has been in the business for a very long time.” The statue was put up in 1999 and cost Rs 75,000.
Ajgaonkar says lots of visitors appreciate the bust and take photographs next to it.

One of them is Nicholas Guichard, 26, a dentist from Toulouse, France, who is here with a group of friends. “This bust is an accurate representation,” says this handsome Frenchman, with red cheeks. “You feel a sense of serenity when you look at it.”

The lifelike Shastri

On another side of Wagh’s studio, there is a 11 foot tall statue of Lal Bahadur Shastri, which has been commissioned by the government of Karnataka. Being built at a cost of Rs 22 lakh, it will be set up just outside the Vidhana Soudha, next year. In June, son Anil Shastri, 56, a member of the Congress Working Committee, inspected it. “It was as close to Shastri when he was alive,” says Anil, by phone from Delhi. “Some of the other statues of my father that Wagh has built for various NGO’s and government trusts have been par excellence. My mother is an admirer of his work and I will recommend him to anybody.”

Talking to Wagh, it is clear that there is a lot of hard work behind the scene before a statue becomes one. So what is the procedure behind the making of a statue? There are numerous processes, like lost wax moulding, and Wagh says, this is the same process that greats like Leonardo Da Vinci and Auguste Rodin used. The final process is when the mould is baked in a furnace for eight days, at the sculptor’s factory in Matunga. “The mould is then put into a pit,” he says. “Then we pour liquid bronze on it. If it is a big statue, we have to weld it. We have to match it with the master copy, which has been made of plaster of paris.” Next up is the oxidisation process, which is done in one tone: from coffee brown to jet black.

The cost depends on the size, but it ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh or more. His customers range from municipal corporations to state governments, industrialists and several trusts. Interestingly, the most orders that Wagh gets is for B.R. Ambedkar. “The demand is there because of government backing,” he says. So far, he has made more than 1000 statues and busts of the late leader.

Asked about the qualities need to be a good sculptor, Wagh says, “You need to have talent and a lot of concentration. You have to do a deep study of the human anatomy, and understand facial expressions, and use your imagination.”

A sculptor, he says, has to be physically fit, because he has to work for 12 hours in a standing position. “It is heavy work,” he says. “It is not like a painter who delicately daubs paint on a canvas.” Each statue weighs about 800 kgs and the sculptor has to use his hands to help the staff and the labour. Wagh plays volleyaball, swimming and does weight training. “I keep my mind refreshed by doing yoga,” he says. “I am very passionate about sculpting. It is a nasha.”

This nasha has lasted for three generations and if all goes well, Wagh’s son, Chaitanya, who is 10, will follow his footsteps one day, provided, of course, that God endows him with talent.

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