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Ram Kumar

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1924, Shimla, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Ram Kumar’s canvases bespoke of stories of city dwellers, mostly migrants and the lowly, along with panoramic views of the cityscapes and landscapes. Associated with the Progressive Artists’Group, his preoccupation with the human condition intrigued him, bringing him to this topic constantly, mixing and tensing both the figurative and abstract.

Education

1952

Studied Painting under Andre Lhote and Fernard Leger, Paris

1946

BA Economics, St. Stephens College, Delhi University, New Delhi

1945

SharadaUkil School of Art, New Delhi

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Ram Kumar

Solitude and silence becomes expressive in the paintings

Following the romantic notions of the artist as a figure of solitude, Ram Kumar manages to lead a reclusive life where his art becomes the core of his interactions. This silence in the public realm is transferred in his abstract paintings, creating images of calm serenity on the surface. However these images of quietness are reflective of boundaries based on class restrictions and inner struggle in an industrialised urban setting.

He portrayed unemployed youth, lonely women, figures which lacked emotions, revealing through the contours of the body, pale stark faces with penetrable gaze. Their faces and expressions reflect their coldness. His celebrated painting Vagabond, 1956, captures the vacant expression of the figure looming large in the foreground with a view of an emerging urban landscape in the background. This pivotal piece of painting becomes representative of prevailing condition of urban despair and hope in those decades of new industrial and urban growth.

Ram Kumar, Vagabond, 1956, oil on board, 47 1/2 x 24”.

The city of Benaras becomes a recurring theme in his paintings

Cities have always been sources of inspiration for his paintings, among which the city Benaras (now Varanasi) occupies a special place in his artistic output. The city’s architectural beauty and unusual perspectives provide him with the visual vocabulary .The idea of celebration and mourning that exemplifies life in the city speak of a hope amidst fading away. This lived duality becomes a working metaphor for Ram Kumar to speak about the state of mind of human life.

Benaras was introduced to Ram Kumar with an emotional swell of beauty and grandeur but upon facing reality, he discovered the underlying reality of pain and sorrow. After the romantic ideals were dispelled he began to portray the agony and suffering, invoking different symbolisms and motifs. For him, the city provided him the blurred boundary between living and dead. His Benaras Landscape, 1963, paints a sordid picture of the city, with tight architectural forms evoking suffocation, along with the dark, muted colours. It becomes like an abandoned haunted city.

Ram Kumar, Benaras Landscape, 1963, oil on canvas, 84.5 x 167 cm.

Techniques and emotions become reflective of each other

Ram Kumar’s works are all interconnected in terms of style, intention and usage of material. Human emotions and conditions intrigue him almost at every level of consciousness, therefore his choice of colour, contours and composition are based on the subject that he wishes to expresses, elucidating confessions of his encounter and understanding of life and people. His works are very much philosophical, the agenda is more important than the meticulous presentation.

The work depicts alienation and hopelessness and these thematic expressions get highlighted with his use of palette, abstracted lines and tight compositions. The paintings become honest propositions of pure, raw emotions that emerge out of interactions and experiences of the past. His experiences right from the beginning with the Benaras and the revisits thereafter get compelling abstract nuances on his canvases.

Ram Kumar, Untitled (Benares), 1963, oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 31 7/8”.

Nature becomes accompaniments to architectural cityscapes

Natural environment played an important role in all his works, with mountains, rivers, hillsides, canyons, forests, desert, fields and rivers, all making appearances on his canvases albeit in an abstracted manner. While creating the man made architectural landscapes, the natural world gets interspersed within this. The natural world too receives a similar treatment of abstraction with lines and colours denoting nature.

The depressive colours are somewhat brightened up to make noticeable the blueness of water while the trees in the background continue with a similar application of sombre colours to merge with the tone of the architecture.

Ram Kumar, Untitled Landscape 2, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 x 48”.

Initially figuration and later abstraction traces his artistic progress

Ram Kumar initially started painting figurations, and later moved on to abstraction. From the 1940s he started associating himself with SH Raza and learned from Fernand Leger in Paris, and became increasingly interested in European post-war art from where the dark and fatalistic preoccupations were most probably derived. In the beginning his figurative paintings depicted economic and social statuses of people in the face of industrial changes. The figures in the painting began to convey depressive strains and dark overtures, with the landscapes in the background in a muted palette complimenting the visual vocabulary.

Later these backgrounds in the figurative paintings become the central focus when he moves to abstraction. The bleak human emotions then came to be conveyed through these landscapes in his abstractions. His rendering of the cityscapes and the architectural landscapes became less figurative, where sombre colours started highlighting the human condition that resides within.

Ram Kumar, Untitled, 1960s, oil on canvas, 17.5 x 28”.