Flowers, snails and everything nice: 50 years of A Ramachandran’s art
The veteran artists oeuvre is so vast that not even the NGMA’s massive space could fit a comprehensive retrospective. But curator R Siva Kumar has tried to bring us a full picture.
If you’ve seen A Ramachandran’s work, you’ll know it’s larger than life, colourful, a celebration of nature, almost whimsical, and often features the artist’s comical self-portraits as an insect, bird or animal.
The works are also very large, typically mural-sized, so it’s possible you haven’t seen more than a few at a time. That’s part of why a retrospective of his work at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), which opened on Friday, is so exciting.
The show, titled A Ramachandran, features more than 250 of his works: paintings, sculptures, etchings, watercolours, drawings and design work for postage stamps and children’s books. It’s curated by R Siva Kumar and is a rare look at 50 years of Ramachandran’s art practice across two distinct styles between 1968 and 2019.
“Often it’s not possible to find a place large enough to present even a representative selection of Ramachandran’s work,” says Kumar, who adds that Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery helped bring the artist on board for the show. “Even a place like the NGMA is not large enough for a comprehensive retrospective.”
At the roomy gallery, however, each floor contains at least one major sculpture alongside wall-mounted works. With the bronze sculpture Bahurupi (2006), life-size human figures stand around a brass mandala that takes up the entire ground floor. A level above are watercolours and the 7-ft-tall Monumental Gandhi (2016), which has a bullet hole and the words ‘Hey Ram’ engraved at the back.
The second floor is dedicated to Ramachandran’s exploration of lotus ponds in its many moods and seasons, and the third floor has many major and minor paintings and smaller sculptures. At the dome level is a serigraph reproduction of his massive 1986 painting Yayati, which kick-started the second part of the artist’s career.
From the early ’60s to the early ’80s, the imagery is dark, angry, political, and influenced by the social violence the artist witnessed in post-Partition India and around the world. His later style came from after the ’80s, as the Kerala-born artist spent time in rural Udaipur.
“I have been visiting Udaipur for four decades,” says Ramachandran. “To an urban society, this may be an attempt to find utopia. But long experience of looking at the lives of people and nature has taught me things that I could not have learnt through mere reading of art history.”
“Ramachandran presents a vision of life where man lives in harmony with nature,” says Kumar. “That this alternative exists, I believe, is his message to urban viewers.”