Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fathoming Ram Kumar’s art practice

Though hailing from a middle-class family sans any encouraging creative environment, he and his brother developed interest in literature. As his passion for painting grew, Ram Kumar decided to travel to France. Luckily, he received the French Cultural Council scholarship (1949-52). It was a great learning experience for him to share creative time with the likes of Octavio Paz, Andre Lhote, Fernand Leger and Jacaques Roubaut.

Greatly inspired by its mystical imagery of day-to-day life in Varanasi, he experienced a haunting sense of hopelessness and desolation in the dimly lit, deserted lanes of a dark night there. The starkness of this memory only grew with every subsequent trip to the holy city, and these impressions led to a major transition in his thought process and art practice.

He had reminisced: “The main purpose of my visit to Varanasi was to feel its depth and intensity. When I first went there, I thought the city was only inhabited by the dead and their lifeless souls. It seemed like a haunted place to me and still remains the same.” Gradually, a new visual idiom arose from the depths of an introspective experience as the young artist spent several hours at the riveting riverbanks engulfed by a vast sea of humanity.

The core concern of Ram Kumar’s oeuvre has essentially been the pathetic human condition and pathos of life – a sense of alienation in crowded cities and the extreme irony around. If his landscapes highlight brighter side of life, the Benares series is a haunting meditation on death.  In his works, the vibrant colors and shimmering surfaces exude a sense of restless vitality. A leading name from India’s modern art movement, he is renowned for his ephemeral landscapes.

With Tyeb Mehta and Akbar Padamsee, he made a strong thrust towards modernism, albeit each artist followed his own unique stylistic and thematic preoccupations in a larger context. He was among the artists close to the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) such as Akbar Padamsee, Bal Chhabda, Tyeb Mehta, Vasudeo S Gaitonde and Krishen Khanna.

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