India Could Have Done Without Modern Art

Artist A. Ramachandran at Durbar Hall Art Gallery, Kochi. Photo:Vipin Chandran

Unlike in the Western world, India has never had a historic necessity to experiment with a genre that has come to be known as modern art, according to renowned painter-sculptor A. Ramachandran.

“Ideally, our art should be advancing along a path that is well rooted in the country’s own visual culture,” says the Delhi-based septuagenarian. His first-ever exhibition of works in his homeland Kerala concluded here on Sunday evening.

The Padma Bhushan awardee says Europe had a reason to rebel against art schools that largely revelled in realism till the mid-19th century. “Then photography was invented. That invalidated portrait and landscape paintings. It was inevitable the art scene there changed.”

On the other hand, the Orient never had an art culture on parallel lines, he says. “We in India have for long seen a flourish of various schools of art, none of which resorted to realism. It would be beautiful if each or most of them continued to exist,” says the artist whose 15-day mini retrospective in Kochi was organised by Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) of Delhi.

Ramachandran’s August 11-25 exhibition at the Durbar Hall Gallery had its ground floor featuring the artist’s post-Yayati works such as Lotus Ponds, inspired by time-tested aesthetics of Indian art. Yayati, Ramachandran’s masterpiece, was completed in 1986, around the time the artist began developing a completely different approach towards art.

At the refurbished one-time palace here, curator R. Siva Kumar chose to split the well-lit space to tastefully accommodate contrasting genres of the two defining periods, realising the artist’s decade-old dream of showing his creations to fellow Malayalis.

The upper floor of the recently-renovated building housed images that portray the darker side of human life, brimming with moods of violence and sarcasm — such as Anatomy Lesson and The Puppet Theatre.

Ramachandran says that Kerala’s modernist movements in literature and cinema in the last century was spearheaded by rooted writers such as Thakazhi and Basheer and filmmakers such as G. Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. “Paradoxically, when it came to art, the Malayali did not have leaders who drew inspiration from their own moorings,” he says.

Arun Vadehra, who owns the VAG, says the gallery organise an exhibition of the comprehensive works of Ramachandran next year on the occasion of his 50th year in the Capital.

The just-concluded Kochi show was a big draw. Artist Somji aka K.A. Soman described the exhibition as “an entirely different experience, providing rich visual interpretations on aesthetic values”. Blogger and critic Ajay Sekher said the water-colours were “illuminating and refreshing”.

Ramachandran, who was born in Attingal in 1935, did his Masters in Malayalam literature before leaving for West Bengal in 1957 to pursue art at Santiniketan.

The artist, whose early paintings were an angry young man’s anxious and emotional response to human suffering, was appointed chairman of Kerala Lalithakala Akademi in the early 1990s. However, this was the first time the celebrity’s works were exhibited anywhere in Kerala.

The artist, who has been living in Delhi since 1964, taught art at Jamia Millia Islamia for 27 years before taking voluntary retirement. In 2002, he was elected a Fellow at the Lalit Kala Akademi. The next year he was awarded the Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram and in 2005, the country’s third-highest civilian honour.
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