Ashok Bhadra

Ashok Bhadra – Lamps

Ashok Bhadra grew up in West Bengal, India appreciating clay artisans giving from to Hindu deities. His love for sculpture brought him to MS University in Barada and Geriit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam.
Influenced by Japanese archi- tecture, Ashok now designs and produces lamps using wood and paper. Over the years he has evolved a distinctive style that has very little Japanese or Indian about it. Inanimate objects are given form and are brought to ‘light’, life. Much admired, his kitty inccludes the predtigious Gujarat State Lalit
Kala Academy and the All Indea Fine Arts and Crafts Society awards.

“Indian artist designs exclusive lamps with a Japanese touch”

“Ashok saw the light”

Peter Pijls / adapted

Ashok Bhadra was a celebrated sculptor in India. He worked on special effects in Bollywood movies, became famous as a graphic designer, and studied at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. His sculpture is now the lamps he designs, inspired by Japanese architecture.

It takes Ashok Bhadra at least three days to finish a lamp, although it often takes him months . He has created over hundred different types of lamps made of wood and paper.

³My lamps appear simple, which is what customers value², the 56 year old artist says, ³but if you study them closely, you will discover their complexity. As in traditional Japanese wooden architecture, I do not use any nails or screws for the joinery. I try to ensure that electrical wires are not visible. My lamps seem delicate, but I make them such a way that they will definitely last.²

Such craftsmanship comes at a cost: the price of Ashok Bhadra’s lamps can go up to 8,500, euros – However, the friendly Bengali will also design ³artworks of light and shadow², as he calls his creations, for as little as 350, – euros.

Ashok Bhadra has come a long way. He was educated as a sculptor in India, and had never planned to design lamps with a Japanese touch. Nonetheless, at a very young age he became interested in the land of the rising sun, a country where even simple, living room lights can be of delicate beauty.

When Ashok Bhadra was nine years old, his father, a teacher and poet, gave him a book on Japan. The young Ashok immediately taught himself to count to ten in Japanese, and to make chopsticks. He remembers buying Japanese water colours ³for six rupees². The following year, his father passed away. For days afterwards, Ashok Bhadra would watch as the sculptors in his neighbourhood made images of Hindu deities out of clay.

³When my father passed away, my mother had to move from West Bengal to Bihar to find a job, so that she could raise me and my four sisters. We went to live in Jamshedpur, known in India as Tata city because of the major employer and famous manufacturer of steel and cars. It was a multi-cultural city, inhabited by people from all over India. I was fascinated by its cross-cultural dynamism. I learnt Hindi, which was not possible in Bengal at the time. Having passed my high school finals, I wanted to attend the art academy. Since my mother could not afford this, I followed a part-time course in painting at the Tagore Society Jamshedpur.²

When a small pox epidemic broke out in 1974, Ashok Bhadra’s education was cut short. He volunteered to help with vaccinations. In rural India, poor and superstitious villagers often did not understand the importance of vaccinations and died in large numbers. ³During that time I witnessed many interesting incidents², the designer says euphemistically.

He started making drawings of things that he saw, including comical scenes ³so that people could smile a little when they were being vaccinated². A Swiss regional director of the World Health Organization saw these drawings and asked Ashok Bhadra to design posters on the Small Pox eradication. He made 42 posters, which were exhibited at the WHO building in New Delhi.

Ashok Bhadra’s career as an artist in India was full of variety. He designed posters for the Indian Railways, National Material Handling Council and taught at the art academy, and was a much sought-after graphic designer until 1982. He used the money he earned to train full time as a sculptor at the art academy of M.S.University of Baroda. In this city in western India, he participated in a workshop by Jos Wong, who was then teaching at the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam. Wong encouraged Ashok Bhadra to go to Europe.

Soon after this event, Wong returned to India again to make three big bronze images for an industrialist, and he invited Ashok Bhadra to be his assistant. ³Jos Wong suggested that I go to Amsterdam to train at the Rietveld Academy², says Bhadra, ³and he arranged everything for me. I started in 1991 with the ambition of becoming a sculptor. I even lived with Wong for a couple of weeks before I found my own place to stay.²

Prior to coming to the Netherlands, Ashok Bhadra lived in Mumbai for a year and half and worked as a miniature model maker of actors and painter of special effects for Sashi Kapoor’s film ” Azooba ” in Bollywood. He was one of the family in the famous film maker Basu Bhattacharya, and created a bust of the director of the same name. He also worked for a documentary on Tata, and two advertising films.

In Amsterdam, he similarly engaged in a variety of activities. After leaving Rietveld academy, he gave painting classes, illustrated books for the ANWB, and made a few sculptures. In Amsterdam, he also met his Japanese wife. During a trip to Japan he made with her, he became interested in traditional Japanese architecture and interiors. He bought a simple lamp, took it back to Amsterdam and replicated it.

³Then I saw the light², says Bhadra. ³Lamps, particularly in my experience, are very similar to sculptures. However, they take far less time to produce. One needs just a few tools and a small studio.

Bhadra took a summer course at a furniture school Amsterdam and visited many workshops during his travels through Japan. ³I learnt the rest through practice and from fellow artists. My background as a sculptor has taught me to think about form. Each material has its particular requirements, whether it is clay, bronze or a lamp made of wood and paper.²

Bhadra now designs lamps that he would no longer call Japanese. He developed his own style. ³At most you may find a Japanese sense to them², he says. Still, the Okura Hotel found Ashok Bhadra’s designs to be sufficiently Japanese, and placed an order for sixteen lamps . These floor lamps now adorn the famous hotel’s Yamazato Restaurant.

During a family visit to India— ³a country that recurs in some of my lamps²- –Ashok Bhadra was surprised to see how much the country has globalized. ³It has become difficult to define India. Traditional values are disappearing. Family values were always most important in India. This is no longer the case. Bollywood movies are popular across the world, but I think it is a pity that movies are no longer about family values. Actually friends accuse me of having become too modern. I now say ³Thank you² when I get a present in India. My friends find that embarrassing. Indians never say ³Thank you² when they receive a present. They show gratitude through their eyes. A gift comes from the heart, so an expression of thanks is unnecessary.²

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