The colours of posterity

As artist Rukmini Varma, the great great granddaughter of Raja Ravi Varma, gets ready for an exhibition after three decades, she gives an insight on her journey.

January 09, 2017 05:14 pm | Updated January 10, 2017 04:43 pm IST

R ukmini Varma isn’t burdened by the legacy. Without being too conscious of it, the septuagenarian artist carries it forward. This great great granddaughter of Raja Ravi Varma, considered the father of modern Indian art, is an artist herself.

But she did not pick up the paint and brush under any pressure. Rukmini started painting when she was six, because of the “visions” she would get.

“I grew up with paintings of the masters and loved Rubens (Peter Paul Rubens) for the flesh tones, he was able to achieve. I had an urge to paint, so I painted secretly. I would not have been able to paint, had we continued living in the palace. Our parents wanted to give us a normal life and that is why we moved to Bengaluru,” says Rukmini, who was born as Bharani Thirunal Rukmini Bayi, fourth princess of Travancore. It was her grandmother, Maharani Setu Lakshmi Bayi, the matriarch ruler of the state of Travancore in the 1920s, who encouraged her to paint.

“I want to dedicate this exhibition to her. She was the only one who knew I was painting and really encouraged me.”

As for her illustrious great great grandfather, Rukmini expresses that he is a timeless artist. “I heard a lot about him from my grandmother. The British would consult him before taking any decision. Today, when I see him being celebrated everywhere, I feel how universal his art is. I did not keep track of each and every work of his personally but now the Foundation will document all that.”

Rukmini is referring to “Opulence & Eternity” -- her upcoming exhibition at Gallery G., being held after a gap of 35 years.

In the late 70s and 80s, Rukmini exhibited around the world. Collectors in India and the world loved her impressionistic paintings, particularly for her lighting and skin tones. In 1981, her nudes nearly caused a stampede at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. M.F. Husain and S.H. Raza also saw the exhibition. “Husain spoke to me for a long time after seeing the show but I did not know who he was. Raza also liked the show. I think at that time, contemporary art and conceptual style was beginning to get prominent. My works must have felt like very different.”

Rukmini went into a shell soon after and stopped painting. “I distanced myself from everything. I was following a spiritual path and had no intentions of coming back. I was looking after my parents. My life revolved around them. I would paint occasionally and that too for myself.”

The status-quo maintained till the time Gitanjali Maini of the gallery met her a year ago with regards to The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation. “It was during this period, Geeta saw some of my old works and convinced me to do a show. I had not planned for this.”

Explaining her work, Rukmini says, she has painted visions that she gets with her open eyes. “I have been getting these visions ever since I was a child. I see these ancient civilzations, palaces, men and women in all their finery and I see them during the day with my eyes open. The moment the sun sets, I stop getting these visions.”

How has her work evolved over the years? Does she still do nudes? “I am obsessed with skin tones so they still remain a big part of my oeuvre. But I don’t do any nudes. The figures are now complimented with jewellery,” replies the artist, who paints directly on the canvas. “My colour palette has not changed. Earlier there were no access to colours, so I would make my own colours and now that there are so many colours and shades available in the market, I mix my own colours.”

(The exhibition will be on view from January 20 till Februrary 19 at Gallery G, Lavelle Road. For details on the show and the outreach programmes planned for the show, visit.www.galleryg

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