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Significant Indian Art Significant Indian Art RAM KUMAR (1924 - 2018)
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"..Spiritual in Ram Kumar’s paintings lies not in painting the ‘sacred’, but in overcoming the dichotomies and displacements of the profane, man-made world. It is precisely in this ‘overcoming’ that Ram Kumar is able to ‘look beyond and within’… His ‘abstractions’ are not the flights into the ‘unknown’, but like a shifting beam of a light they move, passing through the entire space of the painting, from one segment of reality to another, uncovering the hidden relations, between the sky, the rock, the river. The sacred resides not in the objects depicted, but in the relations discovered.” - Nirmal Verma, Ram Kumar – Retrospective, NGMA - Vadehra Exhibition Catalogue, 1993
Ram Kumar pursued his initial education in Economics at St. Stephen's College in Delhi. However in 1948 his career took a turn and he gave up his bank employment to enrol for art education classes under Sailoz Mukherjea at the Sharda Ukil School of Art. While there he came in contact with Syed Haider Raza and through him the rest of the Progressive artist's group. Raza urged Ram Kumar to study further and explore the art movements of Europe. This led him to embark on a momentous journey to Paris where he trained extensively at the Academie of Andre Lhote (1949-50) and the Academie of Frernand Leger (1950-51).
His initial repertoire of works exhibits pathos for the urban milieu, struggling for subsistence in a tragic scenario of unemployment and associative problems that were in a way an extension of his own realities. Strangely enough the landscape that engulfed these figures, in time, began to express the emotive strains that the figures strived to imply – “a peculiar sort of desolation in the town, and the faces and the dark kind of sky…” In 1958 during his participation at the Venice Biennale in Italy, Ram Kumar was hugely inspired by the visual language in the work of the Japanese artist Hokada.
Ram Kumar’s first contact with Varanasi had come to him as a huge stimulus. He admittedly visited the town, which was the holy abode of Indian spiritualism, about half a dozen times. In his own words Ram Kumar explains – “The humanity was tremendous, a vastness. Old women with heads shaved, pilgrims,…. We were sketching, but then I thought that humanity was such an important part in Varanasi, so it is better to eliminate it, because I would never be able to do justice to it. And so I took out the people, and this went on for about ten years, till about the 1970s.” To revive and refresh his memories of the space, Ram Kumar would make innumerable sketches of the ghats and its surrounding areas. These he then translated onto his canvases – a complex study of perspective, forms and structure that revealed the essential spirit of Varanasi in muted tonalities.
The present painting from 1963 is an exceptional work by Ram Kumar from amongst his Varanasi series. The intricate composition, careful layering of subtle colours, interjected with fine textural manipulations, speaks volumes of Ram Kumar’s painstaking devotion to details. In his guileless words he said – “I thought, let me confine myself to a small area, even in painting. That is why I did not try many other mediums….Nor did I try many colours, to include, say, greens or reds. I did not try. I said let me have a small world of my own, and improve it as much as I am capable of.”
“The humanity was tremendous, a vastness. Old women with heads shaved, pilgrims,…. We were sketching, but then I thought that humanity was such an important part in Varanasi, so it is better to eliminate it, because I would never be able to do justice to it. And so I took out the people, and this went on for about ten years, till about the 1970s.” - RAM KUMAR, on Varanasi