Of Ghats And Grids
A tribute to artist Ram Kumar whose landscapes resembled a patched-work quilt of deep emotions expressed through a pantone of colours
The passing away of art maestro Ram Kumar on 14 April at the ripe old age of 94 left a huge void in the world of modern Indian art. The artist par excellence, a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, was among the pioneers of the post-partition art movement in India. Though he was not a member of the Progressive Artists Group, Kumar was a close friend of S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain. Raza especially greatly influenced his work, and style.
Shimla-born Kumar was best known for the fusion of private and public spaces, which characterised a unique lexicon that made his works distinctive and memorable. His favourite hunting grounds were the sacred ghats of the Ganges in Benaras. Through a mix of figurative and abstract renditions, he gave the Holy City a spiritual interpretation very different from any of his peers. Stylistically his crooked temples, slanted spires, jagged streets and disorderly landscapes were stitched together in a beautiful canvas of colours that had the stamp of genius. A trait that obviously flowed in the family. Kumar and his elder brother renowned writer Nirmal Verma have been often compared to Van Gogh and Theo, and Raza Foundation trustee, artist Manish Pushkale calls them “the Ravi Shankar and Uday Shankar” of art and literature.
Kumar’s work progressed from monochromatic representations of landscapes, represented through flowing strokes of black, white and grey to a more eternal and timeless rendition of cityscapes that looked almost real despite being abstract. Ram, who studied in Paris under Fernand Léger and André Lhote, and back home under Sailoz Mookherjea had mastered the use of white as a background and used architectural grids that made his landscapes look structured and geometric despite actually being fluid and lyrical.
Yusuf, the curator of the Patna Museum, who knew him since 1983 says of Kumar, “He was always cautious and serious about the simplification of lines”.
Veteran artist Gogi Saroj Pal says, “His was a literary and philosophical approach to art. His paintings were multi-layered, not just in colours, but in the emotions and aspirations they depicted”.
Kumar, whose painting, 'The Vagabond' fetched a record $1.1 million at Christie’s a decade ago, continues to rule the Indian art market. Buyers find his works to have the humility and simplicity of an era gone by, while retaining a timelessness which only real art can have.
Kumar is no longer in our midst. His paintings will continue to adorn walls, in homes and museums, bringing infinite joy to the hearts of collectors and art connoisseurs.
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