Exploration, immersion, connections: the creative journey of ‘thorn artist’ Sandy Theuerkauf
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 450 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
Thorns are nature’s way of showing how plants defend themselves. They can also be themes and components of artworks, as shown in the exhibition A Trail of Thorns by German-Indian artist, Sandilya ‘Sandy’ Theuerkauf.
This is his first exhibition, and is the culmination of five years of a distinctive sculpture approach using thorns and shrub materials collected from forests around Bengaluru. The story of his creative journey is also shown in a documentary movie running in the gallery at the Bangalore International Centre, by Manush John.
Sandy grew up in rural Kerala and now teaches at a school in the outskirts of Bengaluru. In this photo essay and interview, he shares his creative process of exploration, discovery, and display.
“My style is always about creating with materials of the surroundings where I live. I want to understand the place through this, by working with my hands and becoming familiar in this manner,” Sandy explains, in a chat with YourStory.
Art has also been about exploring the intelligence of the body, and in what it perceives, touches, and shapes. “I would like to be attentive inwardly about the stories that come in the way of my seeing, hearing, feeling. Is it possible to give all my attention unconditionally to a place?” he asks.
The 18 pieces in his exhibition span geometric patterns as well as re-purposed slabs of wood from sawmills, and even a dead tree trunk. The creations of thorn assemblages mounted on wood reflect the tenacity and resilience of life, and invite the viewer to reflect on some of the hidden beauties in nature.
“The present show is another example of giving my attention to different physical features of the landscape. The technique develops from observation of the qualities, and having an understanding of the possibilities in terms of strength and pliability,” he adds. This leads to new textures, and then forms eventually emerge.
Sandy is part of the nature education programme at an alternative school called Centre for Learning. “I engage children about the natural world in and around the school. It is part of the curriculum to engage with the land, be it working with their hands in the vegetable garden, birdwatching, going for walks, or sitting quietly,” he explains.
Art need not be a compartmentalised activity, and can be integrated in community spaces and activities for work, play and living. Sandy also conducts workshops in nature education that involve asking questions about one’s relationship with nature.
His artworks are priced from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 6 lakhs. “Success is staying true to the principals that guide my work,” Sandy emphasises. He feels inspired to continue with his current series a while longer.
“There have been many positive responses from visitors. It seems nobody has done something like this before, and people have expressed surprise and real appreciation,” Sandy enthuses. Many were genuinely moved, feeling they have learnt something.
“I hope that I have created an image that brings focus to these thorns that I have worked with, that they are able to see the details in the material that I have enjoyed working with. After that, if it can be a springboard for their own exploration of nature, then the circle is complete,” Sandy explains.
It was a chance meeting between his filmmaker friend Manush John and the founders of online art gallery KYNKYNY.com that led to the latter taking over the management of his show and its web presence. The e-gallery was founded in 2004 by Namu Kini (see YourStory’s earlier interview and coverage here).
“At KYNKYNY.com, we have been on the lookout for artists who tell a unique story with unusual mediums. We found Sandilya's artwork to be raw and honest, and told an important narrative about nature and beauty,” Namu explains, in a chat with YourStory.
Both Sandy and Namu offer tips for aspiring artists. “Be in touch with something deeper that moves you, let inspiration spring from that space,” Sandy advises.
“There are faculties other than the intellect that guide you in this process, so slow down and be free of the many forces that hinder creativity. Beauty and aesthetics can't be learned, rather felt and experienced,” he affirms.
“Artists must find a unique statement and a signature style that makes their work recognisable. They must have a consistent body of work and present their portfolio professionally on a website or in print,” Namu advises.
“Artists should build a network within the community by visiting art exhibitions and museums, and meeting fellow artists, curators and gallerists. Being mentored by a senior artist could help make important connections,” Namu signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and explore your creative side through immersion and connection?
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