He wore his craft with grace and humility

The master painter, sculptor, dedicated pedagogue and art historian’s thought transcended genres

Published - February 11, 2024 01:04 am IST

For the connoisseurs of art, Padma Bhushan awardee Achuthan Ramachandran Nair was a total artist for his sheer versatility. 

For the connoisseurs of art, Padma Bhushan awardee Achuthan Ramachandran Nair was a total artist for his sheer versatility.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Known for translating the poetics of nature into a distinct language of realism rooted in Indian ethos, Achuthan Ramachandran Nair, 89, passed away on Saturday morning in New Delhi. He is survived by his artist wife Chameli Ramachandran. For the connoisseurs of art, Ramachandran was a total artist for his sheer versatility, and his thought transcended genres. From a master painter and sculptor to a dedicated pedagogue and art historian of repute, the Padma Bhushan awardee wore his craft with grace and humility.

Hailing from Attingal, Kerala, the art of the postgraduate in Malayalam literature was etched by two traditions. His thought was shaped by his conversations with the progressive writers of Kerala and his artistic sensibility was moulded by his mentors in Santiniketan, where he learnt under the tutelage of master artist Ram Kinkar Baij and celebrated gurus like Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee.

Refusing to be swayed by European traditions, Ramachandran’s lotus pond meditations were mythically bound and metaphorically timeless. An avid traveller who loved little Bhil hamlets of Rajasthan, he discovered the quaint pond at Obeshwar and created female figures from his album of fantasia.

In his last lotus pond exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery, it seemed as if time had dried up and lent its erosive contexts into the shadows of the lotus leaves.

A close encounter with anti-Sikh violence made a deep impact on his psyche and he started questioning realism. His art turned more lyrical. He faced criticism but over some time his lotus started to speak as much to the discerning as his acclaimed Kali Puja (1972). The artist had a great sense of humour and relished satire. Open to take criticism, he would say he did suffer from an occasional bout of a disease called male gaze.

Remembered as a revered guru in Jamia Millia Islamia, where he anchored the Fine Arts Faculty, drawing was an integral part of his daily ritual.

“Just like a musician has to string his taanpura every day to do his riyaz. I need to draw. It is my elixir,” he would say.

He did self-portraits long before Indians knew of the tradition of drawing and painting oneself. His set of watercolours read like poems. In each of his works, there is a tree, a woman and a pot. In each pot, you will find his self-portrait. He gave it to his Malayali sense of humour. He would appear as insects, birds and even as a bat, which signified that he was neither contemporary nor ancient.

(The writer is a seasoned art curator and critic)

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