It was with great sadness that today – 12th June 2015 – I heard of renowned self-taught artist Nek Chand’s passing at the age of 90. Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh is one of the best known visionary environments in the whole world, and is an unrivalled example of one man’s incredible intuitive vision.
Born in 1924 in the village of Berian Kala, in what is now Pakistan, Chand relocated to India with his family in 1947. Eventually, he moved to Chandigarh in the northern part of the country; the first planned ‘utopian’ city in Post-Independence India, designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier.
A deeply spiritual man, Chand was fascinated by the mystical significance of rocks, and was by profession a public roads inspector for many years. It was during his time in his role as roads inspector that he began spending his evenings imagining and moulding figures out of recycled and found materials. Pursuing a vision from a dream, Chand cut back a clearing in the jungle on the outskirts of Chandigarh, situated in the middle of the Capitol Complex and the Sukhna Lake; the place where his Rock Garden was to come to life. This space, he believed, had once been home to a glorious kingdom.
Chand’s process is indicative of many historically renowned outsider and self-taught artists, with a focus on found objects and recycled materials. He used discarded objects, such as broken crockery, electrical fittings, glass bangles and bicycle frames, building up the bulk of the figure with a cement and sand mix. A final coating of smoothly burnished pure cement combined with waste materials would then be added. Chand believed that each figure contained the spirit of a human being, god or goddess.
During the making of the Rock Garden Chand was consumed by his vision. He has said before of the Garden: “It began really as a hobby. I started not with the idea that it would become so famous. Every day, after I finished my government job, I would come here to work for at least four hours. At first my wife didn’t understand what I was doing every day, but after I brought her to my jungle hut and showed her my creation, she was very pleased.”
In 1972, the Rock Garden – originally an illegal endeavour by Chand in his spare time – became a municipal authority-funded tour de force. Stunned by Chand’s creation, the authorities pumped money and labourers into the project; now the world’s largest visionary environment, with several thousand sculptures covering more than 25-acres. In 1976, it was opened to the public.
The Nek Chand Foundation was founded in 1997, and today the area is overseen by the Rock Garden Society, opening its doors to over 5,000 visitors every day. It is the second largest tourist attraction in the whole of India – second only to the Taj Mahal.
Chand’s creative vision, his fascination with the creation of something from nothing, the conversion of waste into beauty, has led to his position as one of the most respected creators in the world. His Rock Garden is his personal legacy, one that has touched many people’s lives and one that will continue to do so for long after this sad day.
For those in the UK or visiting between now and October, a selection of mosaic sculptures from Nek Chand’s Rock Garden are currently on display at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. The exhibition is free to see, and continues until 25 October 2015. Click here for more information.