Sydney artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran may not yet be 10 years into his career, but he can already boast an astonishing portfolio of 500 bodies of work that have been exhibited internationally, including in Hong Kong, Berlin, Singapore and Mumbai.
The 33-year-old’s genre-defying, instantly recognisable ceramic and bronze models and figurative sculptural figures are layered with colour and sometimes random printed decals. Nithiyendran describes them as “representations of the human figure” that often take an animal or god-like form, which reflects “the past, present, future, different regions, different species” and are heavily influenced by his Sri Lankan heritage.
“I think the more I learned about Western art as an adult, the more boring I found it,” he tells Broadsheet. “I’m not saying that there’s no value there, I’m just saying I was more attracted to the imagination, craftsmanship, and the narratives of mythologies and regions [such as south Asia and Asia more broadly].”
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Now, almost a decade of work has been compiled into Nithiyendran’s debut monograph, Ramesh. The 368-page book, published by Thames & Hudson, is replete with photographs, conceptual drawings and narratives about Nithiyendran’s work since 2014.
“We wanted the book to feel like one of my artworks, in a way … there are no blank pages, no resting pages. We wanted to fill the book with content and energy,” he says. “A lot of my diaries are in museum collections, so we’ve given the audience hopefully quite a candid insight through a visual story into how my ideas start.”
Despite all his achievements, Nithiyendran admits he didn’t always think becoming an artist was possible.
“When you grow up in western Sydney in a migrant family, you don’t know any artists or any performers … so I never really had any immediate role models that could actually illustrate what life as an artist would be like,” he says. “I didn’t know it was possible; it was all very mystifying.”
Nithiyendran says his interest in art at school gave him the courage to carve his own path. He went on to study a Bachelor and then a Master of Fine Arts at University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts (now UNSW Art & Design). He is currently represented by Sydney gallery Sullivan+Strumpf.
The book release isn’t the only milestone for 2022. Nithiyendran is already preparing for shows that will take him up until the end of the year, including Frieze in London, a group show in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair at Carriageworks in September, before wrapping up with an installation for the Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney Modern Project when it opens in December.
In his Sydney studio, there are about half a dozen half-finished statues that sit on his work benches. Some are partially glazed, others are being dried. Eventually, they’ll all come together to form complete pieces of work, explains Nithiyendran, as he points to the pallets of clay he still has left to use.
“I often work in a series, so I’m working on multiple works at a time, and I like to work in a studio that feels full, so I can bounce ideas off other things being made at different stages,” he says. “I like to work in parts, so things can be moved and shifted and changed around; it lets me be a bit adaptable. I like to work in mess. I tend to move through the space and see lots of different things. Often, things are made in multiples.”
Even though there’s plenty already going on, Nithiyendran says, “I just feel like I’ve got infinite ideas in my head and I want to make them all, so once they’re finished, they’re closed – all the others that want to come out, need to come out.”
He adds that his ideas often emerge from his own drawings or inspiration from other works, but it’s also sometimes dictated by pragmatic parameters set out by a gallery, for instance.
“I think art practice and life are often embedded. It’s not like I go home and I switch off to the world; it’s just an extension of other practices,” he says. “I like fashion, I like prints, I like colour, I like layering and I think that aesthetic comes into my work. I like extra stuff – I don’t like low-key.”
Ramesh is out now and available for purchase online at Booktopia.
Read more in our Studio Visit series.