The Search for Dynamic Silence

a comment by T. Butzlaff

He [Nirman] introduces others to sculpture in the same way that he himself meets the stone. First comes his love for the material – the feeling; the technique is secondary.

 He can spend hours circling the stone and looking, before a single blow with hammer and chisel is struck. He must feel in tune. In terms of art history, one could classify him loosely as a neo romantic. Loosely this means, when looking at the world, or the stone, if nothing stirs within then forget about sculpting.

For a more graphic description: Nirman’s attitude to his work introduces sculpture as a living, jazz-like element. As soon as the feeling between the two musicians, the stone and the artist is ‘right’, the improvisation can begin. The sculpture evolves, over the course of many, many sessions. When the feeling isn’t there, he again circles round the figure, waiting and listening. Seeing is an intrinsic part of the process, hence the tittle of one of his works – Wait and See. This intuitive dialogue with the stone requires a relaxed patient way of working as well as intimate handwork. This is what makes his sculptures so precious. They take their own time until they are both finished.

 The mind, of course, also plays its part. The questioning and often insecure mind steps in with a vengeance whenever the artist cannot access his intuitive improvisation: ‘Why does it falter? Am I still working on what was intended? What does the material want?’ To ponder and clarify these questions can be helpful. But what really gets him going again is, in fact, what he keeps telling his students. ‘The breakthrough often comes when you just let go and risk’. This isn’t always easy. Imagine you have invested many months of hard work in a statue, parts of it have even been polished already, but you feel that something is not yet right. Suddenly you grasp the hammer and in a fit of wild resolution you completely blast off a carefully honed corner. The standing figure has become a lying one. Yet you still don’t know whether you will achieve the hoped-for improvement or just ruin the sculpture for good. Was this the right thing to do?

This is the way he works.

 His students in the sculpting studio may take their time in understanding this very emotional and intuitive way of working. But by and by it dawns on them that, apart from sculpting techniques, they are being given a valuable insight: a timeless approach to art.

 When he draws or paints, Nirman works fast, impulsively, and non-figuratively. For him, paint plays a subservient role. His theme is expressive tracks of black and white. Here, too, he has to wait for the right moment.  What always counts is the moment, The moment of utmost awareness and spontaneity. Then it is either succeed – or fail. One cannot improve, only start afresh.

 Nirman Cain’s work as a sculptor follows the tradition of modern classicism. What interests him in his art is anything authentic, real, archetypal – the concentration on the essential in a form. In this way, he is far from Rodin, or Michelangelo but very close to Brancusi, or Cycladic sculptors.  He lets himself be inspired by nature, but what comes out is non-representational. If his subject matter is a tree, the sculpture will show his dialogue with the tree rather than its literal image

 Jean Arp is the only forerunner I can think of with whom he shares the same love for sculpting vegetational shapes in stone. The artists of modern classicism did not want to depict reality; they were after something essential behind the incidental outer phenomena. No wonder then, that Nirman loves the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. Yet my feeling is that he is closer to Kandinsky or Paul Klee’s apparently musical approach.

To date, Nirman has created two cycles of sculpture. The second has evolved out of the first, with an increasing degree of abstraction.

 The first cycle of stones is characterized by an uprising, dynamic theme. The stones of the second cycle rest in themselves.

 Nirman always lets himself be inspired by nature, giving it a synthesizing spin. No matter what the details may be, he is always aware of the whole form of his subject matter. The empty gaps become an essential part of the sculpture and in the cycle of the dynamic stones, this is clear. The lotus and the Palm leaf are immediately recognizable as a plant, even though the actual theme is the energy that makes it grow and unfold. They rise from a narrow base, expanding upwards in an effort to overcome gravity.

 In the later cycle of the restful stones, that which originally inspired him is hardly recognizable anymore. They are very self-contained. On the level of plants, they are seeds. They seem to harbour a second form, another sculpture with, quietly waiting for the day when they will open up and give birth.

These two themes of dynamic unfolding and quiet waiting are expressions of two opposite poles, the male and the female, and two sides of Nirman’s nature. They are the visible traces of his real work – the search for the dynamic restfulness of Nirman Cain.