K G Subramanyan, one of the last living art stalwarts of post-Independence India – whose name has been synonymous to Tagore’s Santiniketan – died at Vadodara on Wednesday. A Padma Vibhushan awardee, he was 92.
The news left teachers and students at Santiniketan mourning, as he spent major parts of his life – both as a student and a teacher – there. He retired from Kala Bhavan in 1981 and was known to all as ‘Mani da’. He was a pioneer in the modern art forms ranging from paintings, murals, terra cotta, wooden toys and pottery.
“He was en exceptional artist with extraordinary skills. His demise is particularly saddening because he had been working enthusiastically even a month ago,” said eminent artist and Rajya Sabha MP, Jogen Choudhury.
He added that the artist had created a style of his own by mixing modern motifs with Patachitra style of painting. Drawings, murals, wooden toys, sculptures and many kinds of three-dimensional relief work were among other areas of interests.
“There are many famous artists in India but Mani da is exceptional because of a unique blend of artistic skills and intellect. He was no less great an art thinker than an artist. He had a deep understanding of art and never resorted to populism,” said Sushovan Adhikary, an art historian based at Santiniketan.
In the later years, he abandoned colours and represented the world only in black and white.
“It’s a great loss for the country. Despite being a nonagenarian, he was busy in working and has having exhibitions every year. He bothered less about sales from exhibitions and more about showing his work to people. To connect with the people was his prime agenda,” said art connoisseur and gallery owner Vikram Bachhawat.
Born in Kerala, Subramanyan was involved in socialist and Gandhian activism. He was also imprisoned for a short while during the Quit India movement. During his student days at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, he grew up under the tutelage of the likes of Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij and Binod Behari Mukhherjee.