An exhibition of artist Ram Kumar's Works

An exhibition of Ram Kumar's recent works at the Grosvenor Gallery features his landscapes and prominent works including those from the famous Benares series. The vivid imagery ' religious and social ' of the holy Hindu city left a deep mark on him.

Giving a glimpse into the artist's illustrious career, art critic Ranjit Hoskote's essay 'Reflections on the Art of Ram Kumar' for a show of woks by the artist in 2002 co-hosted by Saffronart and Pundole Art Gallery, mentions: In charting Ram Kumar's development as a painter, we also trace the graph of an art evolving in the context of India's unfolding national modernity, with the freight of intellectual and spiritual crisis, the changing currents of aesthetic and stylistic preoccupation that this implies.

'His painterly development could be conceived of as a pilgrimage, given the orderliness with which its stages have succeeded one another. And yet, through the decades, this pilgrimage has been broken at several, and sometimes surprising, way stations of experiment. His art, which has proceeded through an alternation of joyous expressivity and brooding reticence, plays out a crucial polarity of emphasis in the context of Indic culture.'

The artist's recent works are increasingly abstract, done in sweeping strokes of paint which evoke both exultation of natural spaces, and more recently an incipient violence within human habitation.

It is agonizing human conditions that have influenced him the most as an artist. His art of the Independence era rapidly began to express a tetchy dissatisfaction with life. The burgeoning metropolitan city and its inherent emotional insecurities disturb him. By foregrounding his figures, the artist magnifies the monotony and anonymity of urban existence. There is an irony he sees in the situation around him: it brings a sense of alienation even in crowded cities.

His paintings of the holy city of Benaras are a further denial of human presence. The figure disappears and the exalted city becomes a metaphor of a state of mind. During his visits to Benares for the series of paintings he was doing in the sixties, he was captivated by its ambiguity, the way it harbored the dead and the living. The steps leading to the river Ganges, temple domes dotting the sacred skyline, and the city rising from river mists, create an aura and ambience. The artist noticed a confluence of faith there but also a sea of hopelessness in the dilapidated houses with their signs of faded grandeur. The contrasts haunted him, and influenced him deeply.

In his landscapes he depicted the archetypal presence and acute polarities of Benares swiveling between death and birth, grief and celebration. Here he found a potent symbol for painting human suffering inflicted under the garb of social customs. Revealing the impact the city has had on him, he mentions: 'During my several visits to the city, my effort has been to fathom a little of its mysterious depths which I could interpret in my paintings.' The series, comprising the deeply meditative landscapes, is his visual treatise on the eternal city.

Apart from the Benares series, Ram Kumar's recent works form part of the exhibit on view till June 29, 2007. Analyzing his work and depicting the transition in it, an accompanying note to the exhibit mentions: 'Ram Kumar has no desire to shock or seduce the eye which makes so much of abstract art slide into the sensational or the decorative. The ascetic streak in his mental make-up will not permit any such indulgence. The sense of quiet that pervades his work invites contemplation, not a gaze.'

images courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery

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