The dolphins at a traffic island in Worli, the rhinoceros at Juhu Circle and flamingos near the mudflats of Sewri… The name behind several sculptures in the city, Arzan Khambatta is an architect by profession but a sculptor by choice with sensibilities favouring the synergy between urban life, environment and sustainability. His works are also found in corporate houses, hotels, and in private collections, with heights ranging between six inches and seventy feet. When he is not sculpting, he imparts his knowledge of the craft to children from all strata of society, be it International Baccalaureate schools or children from slums and streets of Mumbai. He tells the Free Press Journal that he likes challenges that defy his own creativity.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I started dabbling in visual stories out of scrap metal art in 1982, right after my Class 10 exams. It was a hobby then, not ever thinking that I would turn it into a profession one day. People then started noticing my work and asked if I could make it for them. First, I worked single-handedly but when the sizes grew, I had to bring in labourers to help me carry materials. Since my first show in 1993, I have had 14 solo shows and hundreds of group shows. My forte is to design for specific spaces.
What connection do you have to your art?
It is something that I absolutely love doing. Every day at the studio is challenging for me, and I make sure it stays that way because I want to do new things; I want to experiment with new materials, techniques and machines. I want to engage in dynamic things and it is this curiosity that keeps me going and pushes me to reinvent myself.
What materials do you use?
I use iron, copper, aluminium, stainless steel and wood. I use specialised welding machines and my studio looks more like an industrial workshop than an artist’s studio.
How do you determine what to charge for your art?
The size of the artwork and the materials determine that, but the most important one is the detailing. Even a three-feet artwork can cost more than a nine-feet one.
Bronze casting is the most expensive one, followed by stainless steel, brass, copper, iron and fibreglass.
How do you choose your themes?
I like my themes to be simple, appreciative, motivational and happy; I don’t do sad sculptures. I like creating something that brings a smile on someone’s face and that is always my first objective, as also the aesthetics of the area.
What is the role of an artist in society?
To be able to project their vision, to be able to react to the environment and do something pertaining to that situation. It should not be religious or political, but contemporary; of a level that can be compared to the art at the international level. Artists have to break away from the old world mould and make contemporary sculptures, abstract pieces that challenge people’s sensibilities. Change is the only thing constant; even art has to keep evolving.
What’s your biggest barrier to being an artist?
People are not yet used to seeing absolute contemporary art. I was recently talking to an artist who was making sculptures for a traffic island; he said that ‘you people do contemporary sculptures which the public won’t understand’. But I totally disagree with this because if you want to see how art has progressed in a city or a country it has to be progressive. No artist should say that because the public cannot appreciate something that is modern, so give them something that is old. If we use cell phones in cars today, why should we stick to art and sculptures that are old age? To me, the challenge is to educate our public and decision makers as to what sort of pieces work and to completely stay away from political or religious sculptures because art is never to be mixed with those two elements.
What do you see for yourself in future?
I am interested in public art; I already have five sculptures at various traffic islands in Mumbai and I wish that other cities, too, see them and give me a chance. I would like to go public with my art rather than get restricted to galleries.