Sharbani Das Gupta was always interested in clay. Then, while she was a student at the National Institute of Design, Deborah Smith and Ray Meeker came and offered a workshop. Das Gupta found it “mesmerizing,” and chose clay as an area of specialization. But the program was industrially oriented—washbasin design, anyone?—and she switched to visual communication before going to Golden Bridge two years after graduation. Straightforward linear development is nice, but sometimes progress is a winding road, personally and artistically. Das Gupta worked in graphic design in India and the United States before returning to ceramics and finding her way with small sculptural works that responded to the landscape, a major concern ever since. A year in Houston, unfortunately, was the year of Hurricane Katrina, and that experience made her more activist in her life and her art, as in an installation that brings theatrical flair to the issue of plastic refuse in the oceans.
The colored surfaces in Field Notes from a Blue Planet might recall the famous Earthrise photograph from the Apollo 8 moon mission, the jewel-like form emerging from the darkness of outer space, with the underlying land masses and water visible beneath the swirls of the clouds. The cylindrical forms in Das Gupta’s installation were, in fact, inspired by core samples made to preserve a record of the ice caps, although she modified that source to suggest other kinds of sites and materials. Das Gupta said she undertook the project, in part, to have the opportunity to paint again, and the surfaces reveal her pleasure, as a kind of eye-candy frosting, even as they serve to represent the record of nature now under siege. The stoneware, in its whiteness, conveys a sense of weightiness and solidity, yet hints at destructive forces at work in the exposed gaps and cracks beneath the surface, which may represent not just damaged samples but the forces that threaten the long history of the Earth.