Painter, author and teacher A. Ramachandran has explored new dimensions in art. Select works of the artist will be displayed in Kochi from August 11 to 25.
Considered to be the most unique retrospective exhibition of an artist ever presented in the country, the ‘A. Ramachandran Retrospective’ of the National Gallery of Modern Art (2003) had several singular features in terms of curation, publication and display. A part of the project was planned for presentation in Thiruvananthapuram, the birthplace of the artist. But it did not materialise due to certain lags in hospitality. The National Gallery of Modern Art could not hold the works for a long time as the lending period agreement with the collectors had expired due to the prolonged delay for the Thiruvananthapuram exhibition.
Organising a retrospective show on Ramachandran by procuring works from its collectors demands multiple responsibilities and extreme physical and unseen financial burdens. Hence the National Gallery withdrew from the scene in 2005 and returned the art works to their owners. Vadera Art Gallery, New Delhi, however, is now organising a special exhibition of the artist entitled ‘Selected Works of Ramachandran: from 1964-2012’ at the Durbar Hall, Kochi, featuring the Vadera collection and the Ramachandran collection. Paintings, sculptures, graphics, drawings and photographic prints of works will be included in the show at the exhibition to be held from August 11 to 25. Eminent art historian R. Sivakumar is curating the exhibition.
Painter, sculptor, designer, researcher, author and teacher, A. Ramachandran occupies a distinct stature in the modern and contemporary art of the country. He began his interesting career as a vocalist-singer at All India Radio, Thiruvananthapuram during 1954-57. Then he left Kerala for Shantiniketan to become a painter.
He was already a postgraduate in Malayalam language and literature and had a very lively student life at the University College in the capital city, along with N. Mohanan, G. Aravindan, O.N.V.Kurup, G. Sankarapillai and Sugathakumari as college mates, and N. Krishnapillai and Ananthakuttan as teachers, and P. Kesavadev, as a senior colleague at All India Radio.
The Shantiniketan period of Ramachandran was ameliorated with the presence of great teachers such as Ramkinger Baij (whom he already sought as a teacher before reaching Shantiniketan) and Binod Behari Mukherjee, and, of course, his colleague and life partner Tan Chameli. It was also the formative period that enabled him to see visual art practices as a part of the broad spectrum of expressions such as theatre, classical, folk and tribal arts on the pan-Indian and pan-Asian scale.
Though Ramachandran identified himself with the Shantiniketan legacy, his paintings of this period reflected the modernist approach, both in medium and execution on par with the modernists of his generation. But what made him different was the strength of his precision in terms of the images of human figures and concepts which derived from intellectual sources of European-Indian literature.
Described by critics like Richard Barthlome as 'apocalyptic vision', his representation of deformed and diseased bodies of headless human images carried a romantic drama evoking the existential anguish and identity crisis on larger than life size canvases that created a distinctive gaze in Indian art. Further, proceeding to other canvases of this period one encounters the discursive traits of a socio-political content with direct references to the fascist power and the suffering of humanity.
The ‘Anatomy lesson’ (1971) – the most important painting belonging to this period – is represented in this exhibition as artist’s collection. ‘The audience’ (1972) and the etchings and drawings done as preparatory studies as well as independent works will be a part of the show.
Over the years, Ramachandran did research on several forms of expressions which led him to assimilate various streams of practices and the life of people. When Ramachandran started research on the mural paintings of Kerala in 1967 it was quite an unknown area. He had travelled throughout Kerala, identified the areas and copied the murals, including the making of structural diagrams of the temples. It took almost 30 years for completing the project that materialised into a large volume in 2004. The research he undertook for designs, children’s books, illustrations, curatorial work and personal writings belong to a rare and incisive passion for painting and sculpture.
As he followed the Indian miniatures and Russian icons, he devoted himself to them, reinterpreted the art with a contemporary vision without distorting the language for sensational artistic ends. And, when he painted the mural spaces of ‘Yayathi’ (1984), Ramachandran explored the great depths of pan Indian-Asian cultures and manifested epic dimensions on canvas.
Synthesising a new iconography of human figuration, which corresponds with the human proportions of down to earth men and women, and refining it with the streams of folk/tribal arts of rural India, Ramachandran has evolved a radical figurative language in painting and sculpture. The images of people that appear in his later works are as simple as they are but at times transform into mythical characters in the organic flow of nature.
In the macro and micro cosmos of the universe, the artist himself appears humbly on the sides of the pictures, sometimes as a bat hanging upside down on the tree, a tortoise in water, or a bird taking off from the tree. Artists like Ramachandran continue to inspire the generations by unveiling the alternate spaces of contemporary art which counter the Euro-centric projects of the modern and post-modern.
Sivakumar will be providing curatorial notes on the exhibits along with the Vadera catalogue on selected works(1964-2013).