Kerala’s most spacious and sophisticated art gallery opened its both floors to flaunt close to 100 acclaimed works of a long-lost son, as the first-ever exhibition of renowned painter-sculptor A Ramachandran in his home-state opened here today.
The refurbished one-time palace split its well-lit space to tastefully accommodate contrasting genres of two defining periods of the Delhi-settled septuagenarian, letting the Padma Bhushan awardee realise a decade-old dream of showing own creations to fellow Malayalis — courtesy a gallery based in his resident metropolis upcountry.
“I still don’t believe I’m late with my exhibition in my state,” said Ramachandran, who had left Thiruvananthapuram in 1957 for higher studies in art in West Bengal. “For, only recently has Kerala begun to broaden its visual spheres to accept aesthetics unfamiliar to it,” he noted at the start of the 15-day “mini retrospective” being organised by Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) of the national capital.
“I have a feeling that the new generation would receive my paintings better,” he maintained, standing next to illustrious filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan and mingling with art buffs who gathered in the evening to take in the 78-year-old icon’s works that curator R Siva Kumar has broadly classified into two: pre- and post-Yayati.It was in 1986 that the artist completed his masterpiece Yayati, his largest work by far. The 60-ft-by-8-ft creation “redefines his idea of a mural and of a modernist painter itself”, observed Prof Siva Kumar, who teaches at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan — also Ramachandran’s alma mater. The curator, who has gone a certain chronology of the artist’s creations dating from 1964 (when Ramachandran began life in Delhi) till this year, has sequenced his pleasing post-Yayati paintings on the ground floor. The upper deck of the 160-year-old but recently-renovated building houses images that portray the darker side of human life brimming with moods of violence and sarcasm — such as Anatomy Lesson and The Puppet Theatre.
“Yayati marks a point of transition in Ramachandran’s career,” said Prof Siva Kumar, who has been teaching in Visva-Bharati University since 1981. “Many consider it as a negation of modernism, but then his pre-Yayati works demonstrate a postRomantic sensibility.”A similar observation came from Arun Vadehra, owner of the VAG, which is celebrating its 25th year. Ramachandran’s works are as contemporary as any noted artist of the new generation,” he said, recalling that his gallery’s brush with Ramachandran dates back to no less than two decades.“We have full faith in his creativity. He seldom succumbs to any pressure from outside,” added Vadehra. “It has been our dream for the past eight years to show Ramachandran’s works in his native state. For us, this venture is as historic as it is for the art circuits of Kerala.”
Earlier in the day, former minister M.A. Baby and the family of late filmmaker G. Aravindan met with the artist and viewed the exhibits. Among other visitors were Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Chairman, K.A Francis and Bose Krishnamachari, President of the Kochi Biennale Foundation.
The 15-day event, which is slated to conclude on August 25, features close to 50 Ramachandran’s paintings, besides nearly 40 water-colours and ten etchings besides four sculptures including two sculptural groups, revealed Arun Vadehra, director of VAG, which is celebrating its 25th year.
Ramachandran, who was born in downstate Attingal in 1935, did his Masters in Malayalam literature before leaving for Santiniketan as a 22-year-old to pursue the study of art under masters such as Ramkinkar Baij, Nandalal Bose and Benodebehari Mukherjee. “His creativity bears rich shades of exposure to varied cultures of India and the rest of the world,” said Prof Siva Kumar, who has familial roots in Central Travancore.
Ramachandran, whose early paintings were an angry young man’s anxious and emotional response to human suffering, had a second tryst with Kerala in the early 1990s when he was appointed chairman of the state Lalithalala Akademi. Even so, this is the first time the celebrity’s works are being exhibited anywhere in Kerala.
The artist, who has been living in Delhi since 1964, taught art at Jamia Millia Islamia in the city for 27 years before taking voluntary retirement. In 2002, he was elected a Fellow at the Central Lalit Kala Akademi.
The next year he was awarded the Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram and, in 2005, conferred the Padma Bhushan — the country’s third-highest civilian honour.
VAG will be organising a mega exhibition of the comprehensive works of Ramachandran next year on the occasion of his 50th year in the capital.
Leading art conservator and Ramachandran’s biographer Rupika Chawla noted that the artist always integrated himself with Indian tradition and environment, deriving faith and nourishment from his roots.
“For him, as a prolific reader, western precepts and art history have relevance only when redefined for a specific purpose or analogy,” added the Delhi-based scholar.