Clay can be dirt in the wrong hands, but clay can be art in the right hands. Forty years since he started, Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha has evolved as an artist. In 1980 he started creating and teaching ceramic art; today he is recognized and celebrated for his work. It was the potters in Bhaktapur who ignited his passion for clay. Before diving into ceramic, Gopal was a sculptor. During a workshop teaching the local potters of Bhaktapur, he dived into ceramics and the love affair with clay art just never stopped.
He took this traditional and humble skill and converted it into an art form up-scaling his technique and style over the years. His works have been displayed in many corners of the world, and he has held numerous exhibitions, and been honoured with many awards.
Gopal received his degree from Kathmandu’s Lalitkala Campus but his knowledge and skills weigh heavily on self taught methods. He says, “I met talented people during my art trips. I requested people for books from abroad. My horizons widened through these rather than the course books’’.
His latest exhibition, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ took him four years to complete.
The art series is the continuation of his previous thematic series ‘Game of Chess Played by Women’ and ‘Masculism’. On display were dozens of ceramic arts in which Gopal has looked at the world that binds women in gender roles through the lens of the female.
Japanese Raku ware technique from the 16th century has been largely deployed in Gopal’s art pieces. On one of his pieces – ‘Basti Basti Bata Utha’ – renders nine anthropomorphic horses symbolic of women to get out of their shell and discover the possibilities they hold as a powerful gender.
“My works are depictions of personal experiences, emotional attachments, and histories of our past where social and cultural norms play a huge role in my life,” he shares.
Gopal’s relation with art started early. He made his first sculpture of Lord Krishna at age of 12. Art was a luxury back in the days, and an artist had to be prepared for an indefinite career that promised no stability in income and no guarantee of success.
He recalls, “In the initial days I used to work as a painter and at times as an electrician to support my expenses, but it was the foundation of what brought my art to life”.
But Gopal denies the word ‘success’ and relates it to his love for clay, for art, and his hard work. “Success for me is delusional. The patterned thought of success means being on top, but for me it’s not high nor low; it remains in-between like a middle ground’’.
While Gopal’s works revolve around post modern angst, his value and concern for preserving Nepali traditional craft is undeniable. Gopal worries about the rapid urbanization and its impact on the world, and on his art. “We won’t have sufficient mud in the future. The lands are disappearing due to urbanisation which is the biggest threat to clay art,” he mulls.
He founded Kalparemi Ceramic Studio as a training ground for the new generation of ceramists. “On average, 32,000 families of potters exist in Nepal, but the numbers are declining and as such, clay art is on the verge of extinction,” concludes Gopal.