Nithiyendran work encourages reflection. We recently unveiled the first of two new outdoor commissions at the HOTA Gallery. The first sculpture, Double-faced avatar with blue figure by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, was initially planned to be shown at the 2020 Melbourne Art Fair. However after the Fair was cancelled due to Covid-19, the work is now being seen for the first time at HOTA.
One of the things we love most about art is that it inspires conversation, and this sculpture has certainly got people talking about art in public spaces. We can’t wait to welcome people to HOTA Gallery to see this work in person and to learn more about it, and all the works on display.
Ruth Della, Curator, Public Art and Outdoor Programming told us a little more about the artist and this monumental new work:
‘Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran has made an impressive mark on the Australian art scene as a bright and rising contemporary artist.
‘Nithiyendran’s ascent has been stratospheric, ever since winning the 2014 New South Wales Visual Arts Fellowship (emerging) through Artspace and Arts NSW, and then in 2015 the Sidney Myer Australian Ceramic Award, Australia’s richest award for artists working in ceramics. He is also the youngest artist to be commissioned for a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).
‘His generous nature, boisterous laugh and high-frequency style provide the perfect foil for a considered and diligent art practice. Jaclyn Babington, Senior Curator at the NGA describes work by Nithiyendran as “outrageous in all of the right ways”.[i] His work is attracting the attention of art institutions, collectors and art enthusiasts across Australia and the Asia Pacific.
‘Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Nithiyendran moved with his family to Sydney’s west at the age of one. This diverse suburban experience imparted rich influences and stimulated interest in art and cultural connections. A high school teacher once described Nithiyendran as a polymath.[ii] Harvesting ideas from many fields of knowledge, such as life experience, travels, museums and reading, is a constant in Nithiyendran’s practice to explore cultural identity, the migrant experience, self-discoveries of heritage, and shared histories.
‘Nithiyendran pushes the boundaries of ceramics from a decorative and conservative tradition into a contemporary field using an interplay of techniques. In a sense, he draws with clay and invokes a painterly language of transparency, brushwork, colour and layering with material and ideas. Nithiyendran’s expressive and gestural quality is at the forefront of Australian ceramics.
‘In 2020, Nithiyendran was selected as part of the prestigious Melbourne Art Foundation Commission in partnership with HOTA Gallery. It is the combination of potent subject matter and exploratory use of materials that appealed to the selection committee of HOTA Gallery and the Melbourne Art Fair.
‘The resulting work, Double-faced avatar with blue figure, is positioned at the lower ground entrance to the new HOTA Gallery, and features a large-scale figurative sculpture, balancing a playful little blue neon companion on his arm. Through these striking figures, Nithiyendran extends his practice into the loaded realm of the public arena. He is attuned to the themes of authoritative ideology and idolatry, and this work offers multiple and compelling narratives about just what we as a contemporary society heroicise, worship, and value. Trained as a painter, but also working in ceramics, Nithiyendran’s ability to use disparate materials for the transference of ideas to evoke cultural poignancy is why this new work redefines orthodox public structures.
‘A vertical force at the HOTA Gallery’s entry, the body of Double-faced avatar with blue figure, was first modelled in raw clay by the artist’s hands – a material connected to global cultures and histories. Polystyrene components, shells, and rubber snakes then integrated into the raw form to reference earth, fire, and water elements. These incongruous elements produce a fiery, unexpected and energetic association. To enact the historic notion of monumentality the body was cast in wax and then transformed into bronze, a material renowned for its connection to statues. The two-faced fibreglass head is an explosion of red and was expressively painted for optimum visual impact. The opaque eyes were mastered after five iterations with two pack automotive paint to ensure clarity from a distance.
‘Research into the cultural significance of various guardian and protector figures prominent across the Asia-Pacific are evident as well. Nithiyendran says:
“The way in which these figures are scary and bold and vibrant are meant to invite people in, by scaring the bad stuff away. This tension and energy are a really good way to frame the entrance to HOTA, where thinking and culture takes place.”[iii]
‘Both enticing and disquieting, an encounter with a work by Nithiyendran encourages questioning, reflection and diverse conversations about art in the public realm. Nithiyendran seeks to challenge orthodox views, but does so through a curious combination of playfulness, irreverence, and sincerity. As viewers, he connects us through a shared sense of familiarity with what public sculpture has traditionally been, but also surprises and endears us with a joyous celebration of what it can be: an introduction to a home of ideas, discovery, and exploration‘.
Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. Double-faced avatar with blue figure, 2021 (detail). Bronze, concrete, fibreglass and neon. Collection, HOTA Gallery. Commissioned by Melbourne Art Foundation and HOTA to coincide with the Gallery opening 2021
[ii] Sullivan, Ursula and Joanna Strumpf, hosts. “Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran in conversation with Diana Campbell Betancourt.” Sullivan + Strumpf, Spotify, April 2020, https://open.spotify.com/episode/24hyP8K7im68QsIOF2yLoU.
[iii] Nithiyendran, Ramesh. General interview at media call HOTA Gallery. 16 March 2021