A Ramachandran retrospective

The grand retrospective of A. Ramachandran at National gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi encompasses monumental work of this senior artist; drawings, watercolors, oils, sculptures, murals, books and illustrations, all telling a tale of his accomplished career in art.

Preceding A. Ramachandran retrospective, the ones on Satish Gujral, G. R. Santosh and K. G. Subramanyan have been held in the past at NGMA. Many other important retrospectives are planned for the year 2004 as well. The idea is to project the legends of contemporary Indian art from a wider perspective and to pay a tribute to them.

Obviously the painter is elated over the appreciation he has got in form of a retrospective. "It's important because there has been a lot of criticism about my later body of works," he quips. "Anything political can be temporary. A beautiful or perfect work of art has to transcend time and still continue to fascinate." He uses myths as a communicative symbol. To put it in his words, his art is a vernacular language and it has a new kind of audience.

Born in 1935 at Attingal near Thiruvananthapruam, Achutan Ramachandran is known for experimenting with the myriad possibilities of visual language. To start with, he was largely influenced by surrealism. Headless figures that stood for his protest against evils and injustice in the social and political world were the hallmark of his painting. All these were really political allegory. Ramchandran, like his spiritual and art guru Bose, makes a strong case for Indian aesthetics and for the use of classical Indian images to articulate an ideological position.

The painter converted to using archetypal Indian imagery only after years of painting in the modernist vein. It is noticeable that he has gradually moved from surrealism to the world of Indian mythology. In his painting series titled Yayati, a version of the epic saga of Mahabharata, he depicts the various stages in human life with a philosophical touch. Ramachandran believes that this was one of the landmarks in his development as an artist, because it "let me incorporate elements of classical proportions and postures."

Yet, Ramchandran prefers to categorize himself as a modern Indian painter. "I don use religious images which are such a huge part of Indian art. In fact, I introduce my own iconic images, like any other modernist would do. Only, my figures are more in line with Indian imagery which you find in old caves and temples." Ramachandran is equally well versed in sculpturing as well. In his sculptors he fuses mythology with modernity.

Art restorer Rupika Chawla points out in her book Ramachandran: Art of the Muralist, "The artist is essentially a muralist who enjoys working on very large formats, although he has worked on miniatures as well with equal facility." He reveals that he has been inspired by Kerala murals, Nathdwara paintings and Ajanata murals and has extensively used them in his work. "There is a certain primacy of line and a decorative element in Indian paintings which you can see notice in my works. " he notes.

His rock sculpture at Sriperumbathoor where former India prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated is possibly the largest commission of public art in modern India. Ramachandran is a perfectionist who before undertaking any painting makes hundreds of sketches, studies, drawings and watercolors. His approach towards his work is meticulous. After his post graduation from Kerala University in 1957, he joined for Fine Arts Diploma Course at Santiniketan. He was awarded the diploma in 1961. He conducted research on mural paintings from 1961 to 64. He is also a known art teacher and researcher. He turned to teaching by accepting a job at Jamiya Milliya Islamia College in Delhi in 1965. He was the head of the department there till 1992. During his teaching days at Jamiya Melliya, he studied in details the various aspects of Indian paintings.

He has conducted research on miniature paintings in India. He is considered an authority on Indian miniature painting and has dabbled in children's literature too. Ramachandran was a recipient of national painting award (1969, 1973) and New Delhi Kala Parishath Award (1993). Just recently the Government of Kerala honored him with the Raja Ravi Varma Purashkar. A Ramachandran retrospective at NGMA, Delhi continues till January 11, 2004.

View A Ramachandran's catalogue

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