Subodh Gupta draws heavily from his own experience in culling material for his art, recasting traditional objects of Indian culture in contemporary media and contexts. The artist has an uncanny ability to identify those icons of Indian culture that possess innate dichotomies suggesting both the traditional and modern, the rural and urban, the wealthy and the impoverished. He uses cliches such as the cow and its dung, the colonial style Ambassador car, the rickshaw, and the stainless steel utensils of a typical South Asian kitchen to comment on larger social ills of discrimination, caste politics, globalization, industrialisation, and religious tensions.
Filtering through his cache of symbols, the stainless steel vessel is an iconic emblem of Gupta's work and epitomises his ability to find tension and irony in the mundane. The artist regularly employs the stainless steel bucket and cooking implements, using forms in both painting and as a kind of Duchampian ready-made. The artist has recast dishes, pots, and pans in a number of incarnations, piling them into the shape of temples, hanging them precariously from the ceiling and, in the spirit of Claes Oldenburg, magnifying a single pail to mammoth proportions. In his paintings, the steel pots and pans are alternatively hyper-real or portrayed in soft focus to the point of abstraction.
Familiar to both the rural and urban echelons of Indian society, these shining steel containers are a ubiquitous element in the trousseau of newly married women and a staple of many Indian homes. Predominantly, however, these quotidian vessels are used by middle-class Indians as dishes and cooking implements in place of the porcelain or glassware brought out for guests and special occasions. The vessels are also aspirational objects of desire for the underclasses. Gupta is particularly sensitive to this societal stratum as Bihar, his home province, is associated with backwardness and lawlessness.
It is here that Gupta documents the daily life of the bazaars with his photo-realistic rendition of a vessel stall. Gupta humorously states, "I am the idol thief. I steal from the drama of Hindu life. And from the kitchen - these pots, they are like stolen gods, smuggled out of the country. Hindu kitchens are as important as prayer rooms. These pots are like something sacred, part of important rituals, and I buy them in a market. They think I have a shop, and I let them think it. I get them wholesale." (C. Mooney, "Subodh Gupta: Idol Thief," ArtReview, 17 December 2007, p. 57)