Terry Grimley reviews the largest retospective exhibition of Shropshire-based sculptor Juginder Lamba.
On first encountering Juginda Lamba’s sculpture your first instinct might be to place it in relation to his culturally mixed, Indian and Kenyan background.
But while that has certainly left its traces, this largest retrospective of his work so far seems at least as anchored in the aesthetic concerns of European modernism in the early to middle part of the 20th century. The Kandinsky-ish flavour of the watercolour drawings which accompany the sculptures, for instance, is hard to miss.
Lamba, who is 60 this year, studied Politics and Philosophy at Lancaster University and is self-taught as an artist. Although he makes sculpture in a number of media, including stone and bronze, he is primarily a woodcarver, using recycled material which in one case includes wood from part of a warehouse in Lancaster which was built from derelict slave ships.
The organic character of the carving process fits closely with a metaphorical series of works which relate seed-pod forms to human sexuality, not least in two pieces explicitly titled Yoni.
As well as more benign varieties like limewood, Lamba has in recent years been making pieces from ancient bog oak, a material which insists on keeping a disconcertingly wild life of its own. In fact, Bird Flight (2004) seems almost an unmodified found object, while in the large-scale Ancestral Mother (2008) a figure rears up, wraith-like, out of the wood like one of those ancient dried-up corpses retrieved from a peat bog in Denmark.
In Birth (2000), the highly-polished form of a foetus is placed in the centre of a chunk of otherwise rough wood, the two contrasting aspects of the piece flowing seamlessly into each other like those Bill Woodrow sculptures which twisted part of a washing machine into an electric guitar or the seat of a child’s tricycle into a toy tank.
Occasionally the nature theme can edge towards the cliches of garden-centre sculpture, but the single freestanding figures are much better than that. Dancer (2000) presents a type of female nude not unlike those of the French sculptor Maillol, though even more heavy-thighed. This low centre of gravity seems to be a Lamba trademark.
But asked to name the best work in the show I would unhesitatingly go for Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s Acrobats (1989). It presents two figures, the man flat on his back with arms raised, the woman forming a perfect right-angle, hands gripping wrists in a form of beautiful simplicity, realised with an ideally judged economy of technique.
It’s a true masterpiece, making it seem surprising as well as a little disappointing that Lamba has not explored more extensively the possibilities of combining two or more figures.
* Body and Soul: Sculptures by Juginder Lamba is at The Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, until October 26 (Mon-Thur, Sat 10am-5pm, Fri 10.30am-5pm, Sun 12.30pm-5pm; admission free).