Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Blue Standing Figure, 2019, mixed media, 78 3⁄8 × 39 3⁄8 × 33 1⁄2".

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Blue Standing Figure, 2019, mixed media, 78 3⁄8 × 39 3⁄8 × 33 1⁄2".

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

In a relatively short time, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s faux-primitive, mostly ceramic sculptures incorporating painting, graffiti, and other media have made a big splash on the Australian art scene. His recent exhibition included seven mixed-media ceramic sculptures arranged on eye-catching, neon-yellow flooring and a single bronze set on a translucent pedestal on the gallery’s original floor. The pieces recapitulated the interbred cultural references of the artist’s previous work, which range from multisexed Hindu gods to internet porn, emoji faces, and the naive expressivity of art brut. Though Nithiyendran’s figures may look like ancient pagan deities or totemic idols, they sport Gen X fashions such as body piercings and stretched earlobes. The artist’s trademark neo-expressionist style—crude modeling, lashings of messily applied glaze, and paint in arresting color combos—was featured, for instance, in Hog/Human (all works 2019). This split-faced ceramic head and block body sat on a plinth graffitied in hot pink. One half of the face was that of a cartoonish swine drooling red glaze, the other half a hirsute male with fleshy lips and crimson tombstone teeth. With flat, abridged features vaguely reminiscent of Picasso’s African mask imagery, the human wore a fat nose ring, while purple drips under his single eye suggested a flood of tears. Crowning the figure was a vivid red knob, a none-too-subtle symbol of male sexual arousal. The requisite ejaculate of this ceramic money shot was formed by tubes of blue and green LED lighting threaded through the crown and drooping abjectly over the figure’s head.

Nithiyendran is known for obsessively crafting phallic forms—or just plain dicks—ranging from rampant to half-mast to utterly deflated. As the exhibition title, “False Gods,” intimated, his works are typically viewed as derisive parodies of patriarchal privilege and phallic potency, exposing both as deceptive idols. This effect seemed to indicate the artist’s awareness that the neo-expressionist idiom he favors has been denounced by some critics as an embodiment of male bravado. In fact, Nithiyendran’s deities often reflect a queer sensibility that acknowledges non-heteronormative sexualities, as in the splicing of masculine and feminine elements in the ceramic White and Gold Figure with Long Neck, in which a bearded male head sits atop a delicate, breasted torso anchored by three sturdy legs. The corny third-leg reference to overblown male endowment is counterbalanced by other “feminine” touches, such as the figure’s blue-tinted manicure.

Nithiyendran has proved adept at expanding the sculptural possibilities of ceramics in materially complex, visually beguiling, and entertaining ways. Yet at times his work’s investment in that neo-expressionist shibboleth—the artist’s self—muscles everything else aside. For instance, the most physically imposing sculptures in the show were two self-portraits: Blue Standing Figure and Caramel Standing Figure with Plait. With their ridiculously pumped hessian arms encircled by gold bling, hefty ceramic torsos with six-pack abs, and three leg stumps, they seemed to poke fun at enduringly popular images of the male artist as possessed of a giant ego and godlike creative powers. The fabric skirts worn by both figures are digitally printed with multiples of Nithiyendran’s arms, invoking the Hindu goddess Kali, who wears a skirt made of severed arms, apparently symbolizing the death of egoistic self-absorption arising from overidentification with the transient carnal body. Nithiydenran is no believer in sacred doctrines, Hindu or otherwise. Rather, the oblique Kali reference functioned rhetorically here as a step back from promotion of the artist’s omniscient presence. I have to admit I was not entirely convinced.