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Ram Kinkar Baij

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1906, Bakura, West Bengal, India
Died 1980, Kolkata
Lived and worked in Santiniketan, West Bengal, India

Ram Kinker Baij was a reclusive modernist artist who always remained on the fringes of the art market. In his works the peripherals of society feature not as cast offs but dignified heroes. At the same time the rendering of subject matter is almost banal without any effort to immortalise them. Despite favouring cheap materials due to his modest way of living, Baij managed to achieve an unparalleled versatility in his lifetime.



Diploma in Fine Arts, Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal. India

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Using cheap materials did not deter him from achieving versatility

Baij, as a person and as with his art, remained on the fringes of an art market-fuelled recognition. He remained unrivalled about rising auction prices or international exhibition circuit like many of his other modernist contemporaries. He continued with an undeterred zeal to produce a versatile oeuvre. He managed with modest resources, sometimes painting on the same canvas some five times over and even painting on jute cloth and bed sheets.

For his sculptures he mostly used cement and pebbles and other easily available material. Since his death and after the declaration of his works as national treasure by the government, a few of his famous sculptures have been cast in bronze. Otherwise owing to such material use, concerns of preservation is a raging debate today in certain quarters.

Ram kinkar Baij, Summer Noon, oil on gunny cloth, 122 x 106.5 cm.

Baij's sculptural idiom boasts of a distinct style

Even though Baij continually used "poor" materials for his sculptures, his style bore a rich stamp, exhibiting a complex strain of style and sculptural idiom. The sculptures are invested with a wide spectrum of emotions, from resilience to hope in the face of a grinding providence. Because of the overwhelming use of cement and pebbles combined with probably a free-wheeling handling, the natural outcome of the surface is a raw and coarse one.

Beneath and through the roughness of the sculptures a sense of polished depiction can be gleaned. The emotional and human quotient is never swept under this ragged exterior, rather makes a subliminal case for emphasising it. The rhythmic contours and the energetic movements are never drowned or lost. Mill Call depicts a couple of factory workers responding to the call of the factory siren signalling the start of the day's work , with their children tailing behind, their bodies leaning forward to show a rushed movement with eruptions of dust given a concrete form; bringing to detail a commentary on the working class and a desired sculptural movement.

Ram kinkar Baij, Mill Call.

His range of experimentation was exhaustive

Apart from the ubiquitous large-scale sculptures in Santiniketan or elsewhere, Baij produced an array of paintings, drawings, watercolours, graphics and small-scale sculptures and busts. His works on canvas and paper portray versatility with forms, colours and medium. The watercolours, sketches and oils sometimes betray a similar visual rhetoric as his sculptures but often showcase a wide ranging experimentation.

In a retrospective at the NGMA, curated by one of Baij's students, KS Radhakrishnan brought together paintings, drawings, graphics and sculptures, showcasing a part of the immeasurable breadth of the man's entire oeuvre. Several photographs, literature, interviews, conversations and correspondence were a part of the retrospective that projected Baij as a multi-hued artist with firm ideological convictions and wide artistic merit. Spring is executed with clear geometric precision, with sombre colours on gray-scale and tiny doses of bright colours. This shows his formalistic experiments with abstracted forms as well as figuration .

Ram kinkar Baij, Spring.

Binodini: A recurrant muse

One of the frequent images in Baij's works is that of his muse and student, Binodini. Belonging to a courtly family in Manipur, she studied under Baij and appeared in a number of paintings, sometimes in the nude. There has been speculation about his relationship with the girl but nothing was substantiated.

Binodini has often been treated in his works with a gracious presence, taking care to explicate the lines defining her, adding colours to good effects. His usual visual vocabulary while dealing with watercolours and oils comes to the forefront adding colours with a spirited consistency.

Ram kinkar Baij, Binodini.

The poor feature extensively in his works

Ram kinkar Baij culled images for his sculptors and paintings from his rural surroundings. The poor and the downtrodden figured primarily as his subjects. His rendering of the tribal life and rural scenes was conducted with a zest, the dispossessed not as fallible beings despaired by fate but as dignified forces of a society. The depictions are usually of the banal and the ordinary without any intention of raising them to immortal conditions of life.

This inclination came about at a point when in Bengal Left politics were on a rise and a new consciousness of a politics in art and culture was being mapped out. His famous public sculpture Santhal Family, 1938, at Santiniketan captures his recurring return to the theme of representing the downtrodden. This massive sculpture shows a father, mother, their child and an accompanying dog, packed with their belongings migrating to a different place in search of a better livelihood. This scene albeit with an unmistakable tone of uprooting and pain conveys a hope for a better future.

Ram kinkar Baij, Santhal Family, 1938.