ART Music, poetry, literature, landscape… artist-teacher V. Ramesh's canvases are a potpourri of expressions

V. Ramesh is experiencing myriad emotions at the moment. Just done with his solo show “Why cross the boundary” at Gallery Threshold in Delhi, he is relaxed but not totally. The four blank canvases in his studio are making him anxious. The Vishakhapatnam-based artist is embarking on a new body of work, this time a series on early women Carnatic singers such as Veena Dhanammal, Bangalore Nagarathnamma and Lady Bhagavatar or Saraswathi Bai. “I like the idea of sound. In my next exhibition, I could use bits from their concert, their voices. There would be a headphone and the viewer could listen to the voice of these greats, as they view the paintings,” says Ramesh.

Very often in life, he has found himself enamoured of personalities, who have undertaken arduous journeys only to emerge stronger. And before these three legendary artistes, the artist-cum-teacher was occupied, for a long time, with three greatest saint poets — Akka Mahadevi of Karnataka, Karaikal Ammaiyar of Tamil Nadu and Lal Ded of Kashmir, around whom revolve his ongoing solo in Delhi. In these monumental works, the luminous colours beckon the viewer into the world of rich literary and sacred traditions of our culture.

But they weren't always so heavy on narratives. The 53-year-old artist, with a post-graduate degree in fine arts from M.S. University, Baroda, was once engaged with family portraits, landscapes and lives of fishermen. “But lot of stories told to me by my grandmother in my childhood came back after I visited Sri Ramana Maharishi's ashram in Chennai in 1998. The stories and the poetry I read at the ashram influenced me,” says the artist, whose next few solos “Painted hymns” and “Thousand and one desires”, marked the beginning of a new oeuvre.

The quest that he alludes to in his art extends to his life too. “My life and art are not separate. It's like osmosis. I gain something with every painting and I approach the next work as a changed person,” he says. Is it this search, the philosophy of his life that keeps him away from the buzz of art market? Is this why that despite his seniority and masterly skill, his name is still known only to a few discerning art lovers? “Over the years, I began to wonder whether I missed the bus and a lot of people also felt the same. But no, I don't think I did. I wouldn't have been able to do the kind of art I am doing. The place offered me the luxury of space and time, even though I was teaching. I have all the time in the world to read, listen to Carnatic music, which I absolutely love, and paint.”

He continues to teach and love every moment of it even after spending 27 years at Andhra University's Department of Fine Arts. “Skills are not difficult to teach. What's important is to tell students to look at things differently. And I also wish I could get them to read more.”

(V. Ramesh's latest exhibition can be viewed on www.gallerythreshold.com. The gallery also released a monograph on the artist earlier this month.)

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