Poetry in stone
Ashok Gudigar was born in 1965 in Sagar (Shimoga district). Born in a Gudigara family, sculpture ran in his blood. (Gudigaras are craftsmen specialized in carving intricate designs on utility object). He picked up considerable skill in carving wood and stone. He gave up schooling after 7th standard and dedicated his mind and soul to sculpting. He received immense encouragement from his family members especially his father. To begin with, he involved himself in craftwork, stonework and folk artwork, sculpting deities for local villages. When he was 15 years, his marine archeologist brother Puttaswamy Gudigar introduced him to the national award-winner master craftsman Devalakunda Vadiraj in Bangalore. Vadiraj himself was a sculptor of international renown. Ashok spent several years studying under Vadiraj in the traditional Gurukula system. Under his guidance, Ashok experimented with various media such as clay, fiberglass, plaster of Paris, ivory, red sand stone, granite and soapstone. Ashok scaled glorious heights at a very young age.
Ashok was involved in promoting traditional sculptural art with ‘Kaushalya’, under the Canara Bank Artisans Project, in Bangalore from 1986 to 1991. Now, renamed Artrap, and in Bidadi on a larger scale, this institution imparts training in stone carving, wood-sculpture, pottery, sheet-metal work and allied crafts. Ashok worked as a master imparting training in the wood and stone media to students. He has trained about four batches of 50 students each.
Besides, he has also participated in several regional and zonal workshops held at Badami, Halebid, Ajanta and Ellora, and other prominent centers organized by Shilpa Kala Pratishtana, Lalita Kala Academy, Directorate of Kannada and Culture, Govt. of Karnataka etc.
Gudigar prefers wood to stone. He explains, "The right size and quality of stone is often hard to come by. Besides, converting raw stone to sculpture is a tedious task. For large stone sculptures, the right quarry is to be identified and stone selected. The stone is then tested for its chiseling capability and its ability to take high polish. The entire process is time consuming and expensive."
Ashok has been working on both religious and secular themes. Though the religious-based ones outweigh the secular ones, the Onake Obavva sculpture, commissioned by Government of Karnataka, and now housed in Chitradurga, is a fine example of realistic sculpture. On the lines of a tableau, it is a recreation in bronze, of Obavva slaying the soldiers of Haider Ali with her pestle, spanning an area of 50x 20 sft and at the highest point, measuring 16 ft.
Another realistic sculpture is of the 17th century saint-poet Sarvajna, sponsored by the Shilpakala Academy. This Bronze piece is placed in Abalur, Haveri district, the birthplace of Sarvajna.
As compared to other media, for Ashok, fiberglass as a medium offers great flexibility and multiplicity. (His ‘Ramapattabhisheka’ in fiberglass is a classic in itself.) While the original mould is cast in plaster of Paris, any number of reproductions can be made thereon. Besides, faulty portions of the sculpture can be replaced for greater perfection. However, sculptures in this medium are made for aesthetic purposes and rarely for worship. He explains that this medium is ideal for experimental learning and also for sculptures requiring ornamentation and minute carving. It was for these reasons that Ashok chose fiberglass for modeling the miniature replica of the original Stupa, as commissioned by ASI, Government of India, now displayed in the Nagarjunakonda museum.
The original in Palnad lime stone measuring about 27 x 21mts and excavated at Nagarjunakonda, on the banks of Krishna, AP, belongs to the 3rd-4th century Ikshavaku period. Since the original Stupa is in ruins, the ASI commissioned Ashok to work on this project.
This miniature replica is of 5x5x5 cubic feet size, the highlights of which are the horizontal friezes depicting Jataka tales, important episodes of Buddha’s life interspersed with beautifully sculpted lay worshippers and other decorative motifs in miniature form (2"x2"), retaining all the stylistic features of the original Stupa.
Receiving Vishwakarma Award (1986)
Ashok’s shale stone ‘Buddha Delivering the First Sermon’ (Siddhartha Medical College, Tumkur) is modeled after the Gupta masterpiece at Saranath Museum, Varanasi. The smooth finish and the high polish of the medium complements the sublime expression of tranquility and poise that comes with ‘Knowledge’ and the consequent quelling of ‘Desire’.
The latest by Ashok is a 21 feet seated Ganesha, the iconic attributes of which have been portrayed as described by the religious seer, Sri Madhvacharya. In chloritic schist (soapstone), this Ganesha, to be installed in Kukke Subramanya, is the tallest in the country.
Ashok stresses the need for institutionalization of the art of sculpting. While there are a couple of exclusive colleges for sculpting, according to Ashok, they lack experienced and skilled faculty. These colleges fail to attract knowledgeable and skilled artists primarily because they are in remote locations and offer low salary packages.
He also has in mind an ambitious project of establishing ‘Shilpaloka’ at Bidadi, an institution dedicated to impart training in traditional sculptural art in different styles, to students in the Gurukula pattern, which was also a cherished dream of his guru Vadiraj and which will be a befitting tribute to him.
Awards he has received:
- Vishwakarma award (1986) at the age of 21 for his work- Chalukyan styled Ganesha in Shivahonne wood.
- National award (1992) at the age of 27 for a Hoysala styled Venugopala in Shivahonne wood.
- Junior Fellowship (1992) from the Department of Culture, Human Resource Development Ministry, GOI, for the study of Badami, Chalukya, Hoysala and Chola styles of sculpture, for a period of three years.