'Beauty in trash?': Professor turns automobile scrap into eco-friendly sculptures

D. Krishna Prasad
·Contributor
·9-min read

Over the last few decades, India has seen an incessant shift from rural-to-urban, and will soon overshadow China in population around 2031. 

Now, this rural-to-urban shift has not only changed the lifestyle of people but also gave rise to regular traveling for work. The hassle of the constant movement was solved by bringing affordable two and four-wheelers into the market.

As per SIAM reports, the domestic sales of commercial vehicles in India surged by 17.55%, whereas the sales of passenger cars spiralled by 2.05 percent in March-April 2019. Today, irrespective of the rise or fall in the production and sales of automobile vehicles in the market, India generates a huge amount of end-of-life vehicles every year.

By the end of 2025, this unorganised automobile industry will produce 2 crore end-of-life vehicles in India, which needs a proper disposal policy to alleviate pollution. Unfortunately, the scrappage policy put forward by the Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on March 18 was not as expected.

To resolve the automobile scrap issue at a local level, Srinivas Padakandla from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, who’s currently working as the Coordinator Department of Fine Arts in Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, Andhra P, came up with a fascinating solution called ‘Junk Art’, where he turns metal junk into aesthetic sculptures.

Srinivas Padakandla with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Shri Jagan Mohan Reddy
Srinivas Padakandla with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Shri Jagan Mohan Reddy

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Scrap Into Sculptures

It all started during Srinivas’s school days when his creative genius unfolded as a boy making petty art forms. Most of the time he was engrossed in making them. He was passionate about shaping himself into an eco-friendly metal scrap sculptor as he grew into a young man. He is a full-fledged scrap sculptor whose works appear in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and elsewhere.

Today, he’s on a mission to create art forms mainly with recycled automobile metal scrap in an economic and eco-friendly manner. 

My natural instinct of making miniatures from my school days itself from different scraps. As I grew up, my interest zeroed in on automobile metal scrap sculptures, because it is cost-effective and eco-friendly”, says Srinivas.

Deer made with automobile scrap by Srinivas
Deer made with automobile scrap by Srinivas

In the beginning days of his artwork, Srinivas used to experiment with small-scale models. Most of his initial sculptor works were made of fiberglass, a material that’s used for doors, and roofs. But later, Srinivas reduced using fiberglass material when he found that it has serious repercussions on human health when he or she breathes the airborne dust particles that contain fiberglass.

In 2010, as soon as Srinivas ceased using fiberglass for health concerns, the next moment he started finding alternative materials to make sculptures like metal scrap of two-wheeler bikes, wood, plastic and started experimenting with it.

A 12 feet height Owl made with automobile scrap installed at Kurnool
A 12 feet height Owl made with automobile scrap installed at Kurnool

When asked how he got the knowledge on such aspects, he promptly replied: “During my teaching days, I studied the history of European sculptor art and experimented on such forms using scrap wood, scrap stone and shaped into an art form.” He further said that “I have academic touch on waste materials. But never expected that iron scrap works would turn into a main subject or medium a few years back.

Turning Point

Srinivas has participated in automobile scrap sculptures camps that were conducted in several cities of Andhra Pradesh, India. He also coordinated a sculpture camp that was sponsored by Vijayawada Municipal Corporation. For Srinivas, the turning point in the sculpting line of work came in 2012, and that’s when he started making welded metal sculptures.

Made with Railway scrap at South Central Railways Vijayawada, AP, India on the concept of unity of work and inspiration to the railway employees
Made with Railway scrap at South Central Railways Vijayawada, AP, India on the concept of unity of work and inspiration to the railway employees

In 2016, Vijayawada Municipal Corporation organized a sculpture camp, and Srinivas was one of the participants at the camp, where he exhibited a “parrot” made using scrap metals. Shri G. Veerapandian, I.A.S., then the Municipal Commissioner of Vijayawada, and now the District collector of Kurnool, has seen Srinivas’s works at the camp and acclaimed him for his crafty skills.

Shri G. Veerapandian, I.A.S. also appreciated Srinivas for putting out such an artistic piece and for reusing scrap metals in an efficacious way. “During Veerapandian’s IAS., tenure as Vijaywada’s Municipal Commissioner, he thought to beautify Vijaywada by putting up some innovative and creative artworks around the city for the beautifications of development purposes”, says Srinivas.

Qualified and experienced Sculptors and ex-students of Andhra University, AP, Visakhapatnam
Qualified and experienced Sculptors and ex-students of Andhra University, AP, Visakhapatnam

So, after the success of the camp, Vijayawada Municipal authorities requested Srinivas to make more such automobile scrap sculptures for setting up in public places for the beautification of Vijayawada city. Soon after working on Vijayawada’s sculptures projects, Veerapandian. I.A.S. personally suggested Srinivas to work with the Guntur Municipal Corporation as well. Then, immediately, Srinivas organized sculpture camps in the Guntur locality as well.

In 2016, Veerapandian referred Srinivas to then Madurai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Shri. Sandeep Nanduri, I.A.S., now the District Collector for the Thoothukudi, (Government of Tamil Nadu) to work on the beautification of the city. Srinivas then went along by taking several junior artists with them to work on the sculptures project.

Overall, he along with his well-experienced & qualified team members Dr. K. Mrutunjay Rao, Mr. K. Applanaidu, Mr. S. Appla Raju, Mr. JSP. Govind, Mr. Santhosh, Mr.S.Lakshman, Mr.V.Veeraiah, Mr.Durgaprasad, Mr.Chennai Sankar, Mr.Vasudevarao, Mr.Rajesh, Mr. Ramjee, Mr. Sukamar, etc, have worked on 15 works for the Madurai Municipal Corporation. (2017- May).

Stills of Srinivas Padakandla working on the sculpture.
Stills of Srinivas Padakandla working on the sculpture.

Just like that, the Madurai commissioner referred Srinivas to Tirunelveli Municipal Corporation, followed by other Municipal Corporations of Thoothukudi,(TN) Tirunelveli,(TN) Adyar (Chennai), Anantapur-(AP), and Kurnool- (AP), Vempalli (AP), for City beautification purposes.

Moving further, he added, “Municipal corporations have encouraged us from the beginning. Normally, the Sculptures are undertaken as part of the beatification/development aspects of the city. The departments such as municipal corporations, urban development authorities, or private organizations will invite him to do the projects at their premises. They make necessary arrangements for boarding and lodging during the execution of his artworks until it's complete.

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Step-By-Step Process

Srinivas has shared a step-by-step process on how he builds the sculptures from scratch. His words: “It takes approximately 15 days to manufacture one sculpture of 12f - 15 ft height. At first, we start by making an armature. Next, it will be carefully developed into the chosen sculpture by building contours. For making the sculptor, a suitable scrap is selected and then welded for developing contours. While making the sculptor, it’ll go through a certain process of fixing the scale, proportions, balance, relations, and harmony.

Good critical thinkers like Albert Einstein
Good critical thinkers like Albert Einstein

After completion of the basic process, the sculpture is painted to enhance its beauty and durability. “They prefer the Duco paints to give finishing touches to the work. Before painting, the sculpture will be cleaned up with diesel and applied zinc primer duly followed by two coats of paints”, he asserts.

All the artworks were not done by Srinivas alone, instead, he was joined by a group of upcoming artists to work on his big projects. Each artist works individually on one part of the bigger task. “To create opportunities for these young budding artists, I gave them the chance to associate and work on my sculpture projects. Although I have taught and interacted with each other during the camp for improving their art knowledge and gain work experience while making sculptures, the credit goes to each of us. We used to discuss how to work on a project as a team”, avers Srinivas.

When asked how he manages teaching and artwork together, he swiftly replied, “I usually undertake sculpture-making in summer holidays, on public holidays, and during my personal leaves as per the Acharya Nagarjuna University (ANU) norms. And that’s how I manage my teaching along with public art.

Orchestrated By The Government

So far, most of the projects undertaken by Srinivas are government projects. “I undertake to make sculptures for Government departments only. As I voluntarily came forward to promote this novel art in Society. For the works, I normally tender nominal cost”, states Srinivas.

Municipal Corporations or several other Government departments invite Srinivas to organize sculpture camps in various cities as well. The staff from the respective departments assist the sculptors in procuring adequate amounts of scrap that would be sufficient for the project.

Srinivas Padakandla speaking to Andhra Pradesh Governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan
Srinivas Padakandla speaking to Andhra Pradesh Governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan

Whenever there's camp work, Srinivas used to finalize the concept and do all the groundwork, and then call other Young Artists experts on a particular day to discuss in detail about the project. Higher authorities assign the work spots and finalize the models. Srinivas and his team members work independently. Each participating sculptor makes one part of the bigger sculpture.

From the start of the project till the end, everything was taken care of by the authorities themselves. “Mostly municipal corporations ask us to work for their beautification projects. So, they accompany us with some staff from their respective municipal corporation where they look after all the basic facilities like food, accommodation, current supply, scrap procurement, and labor supply until the camp ends”, says Srinivas.

Challenges Are Negligible

Now, when one goes big in their line of work, challenges are obvious, so is for Srinivas. Some of the common challenges he faced while working on sculptures are difficulty in securing adequate automobile scrap needed for the given concept, lack of skilled labor, and differences in food and climate.

Srinivas Padakandla with his team  members
Srinivas Padakandla with his team members

On the contrary, Srinivas says, “Considering the satisfaction of giving something pleasing to the eye of the public, these challenges are negligible. As for me, working with people of different languages makes me feel the ‘unity in diversity of our Indian nation in letter and spirit. I don’t have any presuppositions.” At present, he is working on beautifying the public places at the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Shri YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s home constituency, Pulivendula.

Propagate The Art At Schools And Colleges

When asked what's his intention behind making these sculptures, he said, “To propagate the art at schools and colleges to make the students understand the profession for livelihood besides making them aware of the scope of the profession. Especially the upcoming artists participating in the camps as a team, get reasonable remuneration and get hands-on experience in making sculptures.

On an ending note, Srinivas thanked Late.Prof Balbir Singh Katt, Rtd.Prof G.Ravinder Reddy, Rtd.Prof V.Ramesh, Rtd.Prof Sudhakar Reddy and Prof CRS Patnaik, for playing a considerable role in honing his sculpting skills. In the future, Srinivas would like to extend this rare sculpting art abroad if the right opportunities strike his favor.

All the images are sourced with permission from Srinivas Padakandla.

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