His celebrated paintings may have acquired a meditative quality for the past three decades, but septuagenarian A Ramachandran has always retained a zany sense of humour typical of his personality.
Ask the Delhi-settled painter-sculptor why his works seldom essayed the green landscape of his native Kerala, and he would say: “Portraying coconut trees and backwaters is anyway no ideal way of showing love for your home-state.”
At 78 today, the former professor with Jamia Millia Islamia in the national capital takes frequent trips to the scrublands of Rajasthan, where the vast expanse of the open terrain and azure sky has captured his imagination since the 1970s.
“In Kerala, the vegetation is so thick that it is not easy to decipher the topography,” the Padma Bhushan awardee says with a smirk. Befittingly, an ongoing exhibition of his 100-odd works in this city — his first-ever show in Kerala — has a section called ‘Lotus Ponds’ featuring his recent paintings closely essaying the surreal quality of the water bodies in the desert state.
Ramachandran, whose works have a subtle connect with Kerala murals, recalls that he has taught art to several batches of students in his 22 years at Jamia, but says he finds it awkward when he is asked to explain one’s own creative works. “These days we see lot of artists going gaga about their paintings and sculptures. It’s funny that an artist is getting judged by his oratory skills — not the art per se.”
The artist notes that a key Kerala minister had in the early 1990s asked him to explain one piece of his art he completed during his stint in the state as the chairman of the Lalithakala Akademi. “I simply said, ‘Sorry, I can’t do that’. After all, art is to enjoy; not understand.”
Substantiating his point, he says a classical musician can best present his talent by not talking about it. “You ask (late Hindustani vocalist) Bhimsen Joshi to speak about the charm of a raga; he can’t do it. He can only sing.”
So, is it to project an artist’s image that Ramachandran grows a long hair? “Well, I do it because I can afford that in my life outside Kerala (since 1957),” he shrugs. “In Santiniketan (where he did his studies), the founder Rabindranath Tagore anyway had longer hair and even a flowing beard. Back in Kerala, my folks would be asking, ‘why don’t you have a hair-cut?’”
At a time when fake paintings are selling in the black market, Ramachandran is unperturbed. “My works are so decorative that none will have the patience to copy it and make profit,” he says with a smile.
An artist, Ramachandran believes, is born. “You can’t actually teach art. And if you are a born artist, none can stop you from rising either.”
How does he find a new-age change in perception towards art? “Good,” he says. “Even till a quarter century ago, there were only dog lovers and garden makers. Now we have quite a few art lovers.”