- Ram Kumar
Died 2018 New Delhi
Education 1949-52 Studied Painting under Andre Lhote and Fernard Leger, Paris 1946 M. A. in Economics from the St. Stephens College, Delhi University, New Delhi 1945 Sharada Ukil School of Art, New Delhi
Born in 1924 in Simla, Ram Kumar was among India’s leading modernists. He studied Economics at St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, in 1946. Following this, he went to Paris to study painting under Andre Lhote and Fernard Leger in 1949-1952.
Ram Kumar, like many of his confreres among the first generation of post-colonial Indian artists - including such figures as F N Souza, M F Husain, Paritosh Sen, Jehangir Sabavala, Krishen Khanna, S H Raza and Akbar Padamsee - combined an internationalist desire with the need to belong emphatically to their homeland. In its internationalist mood, this generation looked to the early 20th-century modernisms of Paris, London and Vienna for inspiration; its need to belong prompted an interest in the construction of a viable ‘Indian’ aesthetic that bore a dynamic relationship to an Indian identity. With Ram Kumar, this quest for an indigenist tenor has not meant a superficial inventory of ‘native’ motifs offered as evidence of a static and essentialist Indian identity. Instead, as I have already suggested, he demonstrates that a painter can enact the innermost dramas of his culture while maintaining the individuality, even idiosyncrasy of his performance.
Ram Kumar’s art, which has proceeded through an alternation of joyous expressivity and brooding reticence, plays out a crucial polarity of emphasis in the context of Indic culture: that between samsara, the sensual participation in the world of events, and nirvana, the ascetic blowing-out of desire. Having renounced the active engagement with the state and civil society that had earlier characterised his position, the artist has turned gradually inward, choosing to be an internal exile of the spirit. This withdrawal affords him the space in which to reflect upon the great natural forces that have enthralled him since his childhood, to gauge their metaphorical import: in their workings, he senses the deeper intrigue of time as kala, the destroyer of worlds. Attentive to the ceremonials of decay, alert to the processes of transformation, he stands on that threshold where the anguish of the private self is sublimated into the universal rhythm of creation and destruction.
If Ram Kumar’s art has been a journey from city to landscape, from the grihasta’s social obligations to the sanyasin’s peripatetic freedom, it has also been an art of looking back, an art of reminiscence. As he departs from places he has known intimately, the artist takes with him spasms of agitation that he will recollect in tranquillity; so that the images that time has shattered may be set right, and words lost to the wind may be strung together, again, in chants. Do we see evidence, in Ram Kumar’s most recent work, of a reconciliation between householder and renouncer, city and landscape? In the paintings that he has executed since the late 1990s, the architecture of the tomb has been replaced by the architecture of the temple-town built by the river. This is surely a Varanasi idealised as tirtha, the ford that signifies a place of pilgrimage in Indic culture: the point where settlement meets openness, and the pilgrim self makes the crossing from locality to cosmos, the earthly to the transcendent, time to eternity.
Ram Kumar’s recent paintings attest, also, to another kind of reconciliation: since the aesthetic experience belongs, eventually, to the realm of samsara rather than that of nirvana, it cannot be defined by severity of structure alone; the impulse towards the voluptuary insinuates itself even into the sternest asceticism. Motivated by one pole of his sensibility, Ram Kumar has often acted as an ‘inquisitor of structures’ (the phrase is Wallace Stevens’), translating the earth in the idiom of the surveyor’s map, so that a topographical code of contour lines and benchmarks constrains the deep saturations of the landscape. But he has also been tempted to oscillate to the other and romantic pole of his sensibility: taking a passionate and unabashed delight in the physicality of the vista, its capacity for moodiness and unstable beauty, he has celebrated the flush of magnolias in bloom, the gravid slopes borne down by clouds.
The dialogue between these opposite poles has grown richer, and replenishes Ram Kumar’s oeuvre: his stringent geometry and his contemplation of mortality now yield primacy to the celebration of sensuousness, the solace of the beautiful. The true subject of Ram Kumar’s art, perhaps, is the landscape as Beloved. In responding to the palpable eroticism of graze and blur, the stippling and studding of textures across these painted surfaces, we share his manifest rapture, his sense of stepping outside himself to attain communion with the Beloved.
Excerpts from Parts of a World: Reflections on the Art of Ram Kumar by Ranjit Hoskote, 2002
The artist passed away on 14 April 2018.
Exhibitions Selected Solo Exhibitions 2016 'Ram Kumar: Traversing the Landscapes of the Mind', Saffronart, New Delhi 2014 'Ramkumar Drawings from the 60's', Aakriti Art Gallery, Kolkata, New Delhi 2013 'Ram Kumar and the Bombay Progressives: The Form and the Figure Part I', Aicon Gallery, New York 2012 'Drawings', Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2011 'Ram Kumar: A Retrospective', Aicon Gallery, London 2011 Chawla Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010-11 'Selected Works: 1949 -2010', presented by Vadehra Art Gallery at Rabindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Akademi; Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'Ram Kumar: A Retrospective', Aicon Gallery, New York 2009 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2008 ‘Homage to Kekoo Gandhy’, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai 2008 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2007 ‘Reflective Landscapes’, Aicon Gallery, New York 2006 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2005 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 2005 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2003 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2002 Saffronart and Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, New Delhi, San Fransico, New York 2001 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2000 Landscapes from New Zealand, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1999 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1998 A Gallery, New York 1997 Arks Gallery, London 1997 Amdavad Ni Gufa, Ahmedabad 1996 ‘Pages From a Sketch Book’, Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1996 ‘Ram Kumar – A Journey Within’, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1993 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1992 Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1992 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1991 Chitrakoot Gallery, Kolkata 1990 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1990 Center for Contemporary Art, New Delhi 1988 Works on Paper, Alliance Francaise, New Delhi 1986 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1984 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1983 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1983 Sarla Art Centre, Chennai 1983 Works on Paper, Miskole, Hungary 1981 Works on Paper, Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1980 Art Heritage, New Delhi 1979 Chanakya Gallery, New Delhi 1978 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1977 Chanakya Gallery, New Delhi 1976 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1974 Gallery Chemould, Mumbai 1973 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1971 Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1968 Dhoomimal Art Gallery, New Delhi 1966 Gallery Chemould, Mumbai 1966 Grosvenor Gallery, London 1965 Kunika Art Center, New Delhi 1964 Gallery Chemould, Mumbai 1963 Kunika Art Center, New Delhi 1960 Wax and Ink on paper after first visit to Benaras, Kumar Gallery, New Delhi 1959 Kumar Gallery, New Delhi 1958 Warsaw and Krakow 1957 Alliance Francaise, New Delhi 1953 Alliance Francaise, Mumbai 1949 Y.M.C.A. Hall, Simla Selected Group Exhibitions 2014 'Immutable Gaze Part I: Masterpieces of Modern and Pre-Modern Indian Art', Aicon Gallery, New York 2013 'Pioneers of Modernism', Sovereign FZE, Dubai 2013 'Ideas of the Sublime', presented by Vadehra Art Gallery at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi 2013 'Nothing is Absolute: A Journey through Abstraction', The Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai 2013 'The Discerning Eye: Modern Masters', Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2012 'Iconic Processions', Aicon Gallery, New York 2012 'Gallery Collection', Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2012 'Aqua', Gallery Beyond, Mumbai 2012 'Contemporary: A Selection of Modern and Contemporary Art', prsented by Sakshi Gallery at The Park, Chennai 2012 'Through the Ages: South Asian Sculpture and Painting from Antiquity to Modernism', Aicon Gallery, New York 2012 'Sightings', Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai 2011-12 'Reprise 2011', Aicon Gallery, New York 2011 'Modern Masters', Aicon Gallery, New York 2011 'POP: Progressives on Paper', Aicon Gallery, New York 2011 'Anecdotes', Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai 2011 'Masterclass', Dhoomimal Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'Paper Trails', Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'The Progressives & Associates', Grosvenor Gallery, London 2010 'From Miniature to Modern: Traditions in Transition', Rob Dean Art, London in association with Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 2010 'Master Class', The Arts Trust, Mumbai 2009 'Indian Art After Independence: Selected Works from the Collections of Virginia & Ravi Akhoury and Shelley & Donald Rubin', Emily Lowe Gallery, Hempstead 2009 'Progressive to Altermodern: 62 Years of Indian Modern Art', Grosvenor Gallery, London 2009 'Tracing Time', Bodhi Art, Mumbai 2009 'Moderns and More', Aicon Gallery, Palo Alto 2008 'Modern and Contemporary Indian Art', Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2008 'Post Independence Masters', Aicon Gallery, New York 2008 ‘Freedom 2008 – Sixty Years of Indian Independence’, Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata 2006 ‘Shadow Lines’, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2006 ‘Moderns Revisited’, Grosvenor Vadehra, London 2005 Ashta Nayak: Eight Pioneers of Indian Art', Aicon Gallery, New York 2004 ‘Concept and Form’, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 2001 ‘Ashta Nayak’, Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai 2001 ‘Modern Indian Art’, organized by Saffronart and Pundole Art Gallery, Metropolitan Pavilion, New York 1997 ‘Image-Beyond Image’, a Traveling Exhibition of Works from the Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan, at New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai 1996 ‘The Moderns’, National Gallery Of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai 1991 ‘Remembering Kali Pundole’, Joint Exhibition with M. F. Husain, V. S. Gaitonde, Akbar Padamsee and Krishen Khanna, Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1988 ‘Three Indian Artists’, Karachi, Pakistan 1971 Ten Indian Artists, a traveling exhibition in U. S. A. 1958 Eight Indian Artists, Graham Gallery, New York 1958 Seven Indian Painters in Europe, Gallery One, London 1958 Graphic exhibition with M. F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta and V. S. Gaitonde, Mumbai 1952 Delhi Shilpi Chakra, New Delhi Retrospective Exhibitions 1994 National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Jehangir Art Gallery (Traveling Exhibition), organized by Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1993 From 1949-93 at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, organized by Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi 1986 From 1953-86 at Art Heritage, New Delhi organized by Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai 1986 Museum of Contemporary Art, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal 1985 Art Heritage, New Delhi 1980 From 1953-80, Birla Museum, Kolkata Selected Joint Exhibitions 2012 'Eternal Landscapes', with Paresh Maity presented by ICIA at The Arts Trust, Mumbai 1995 With Jogen Chowdhury, Gallery Raku, Japan < 1967 With M. F. Husain, Geeta Gallery, New Delhi 1967 With M. F. Husain, Prague Participations 2015 'Abby Grey and Indian Modernism: Selections from the NYU Art Collection', Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York 2014 'Ode to Monumental: Celebration, Visuality, Ideology', presented by Saffronart at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi and Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai 2012-13 'Radical Terrain: Modernist Art from India', Rubin Museum of Art, New York 2012 'Art for Humanity', Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai 2012 'Modernist Art from India: Approaching Abstraction', Rubin Museum of Art, New York 2012 'Crossings: Time Unfolded, Part 2', Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi 2011 'Ethos V: Indian Art Through the Lens of History (1900 to 1980), Indigo Blue Art, Singapore 2011 ‘Manifestations VI', Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi 2011 'Roots in the Air, Branches Below: Modern & Contemporary Art from India', San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose 2011 'Time Unfolded', Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi 2011 'Celebrations 2011', Kumar Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'Manifestations IV', Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'Art Celebrates 2010: Sports and the City', represented by Vadehra Art Gallery at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi to coincide with the hosting of the Commonwealth Games 2010 'Evolve: 10th Anniversary Show', Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai 2010 Annual Exhibition, Chawla Art Gallery, New Delhi 2010 'Celebration 2010', Annual Exhibition, Kumar Art Gallery, New Delhi 2008-09 'Paz Mandala', Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi 2008-09 ‘Expanding Horizons: Contemporary Indian Art’, Traveling Exhibition presented by Bodhi Art at Ravinder Natya Mandir, P.L.Despande Kala Academy Art Gallery, Mumbai; Sant Dyaneshwar Natya Sankul Art Gallery, Amravati; Platinum Jubilee Hall, Nagpur; Tapadia Natya Mandir Sports Hall, Aurangabad; Hirachand Nemchand Vachanalay’s, Solapur; Acharya Vidyanand Sanskrutik Bhavan, Kolhapur; PGSR Sabhagriha, SNDT, Pune; Sarvajanik Vachanalaya Hall, Nasik 2008 'Moderns', Royal Cultural Centre, Amman, Jordan organized by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi in collaboration with Embassy of India, Amman, Jordan 1987 Coups de Coeur, Geneva 1985 Artistes Indien en France, Nationale des Arts Plastiques, Paris, Festival of India in France 1982 The Gesture and Motif, Festival of India in U. K., Royal Academy of Arts, London 1980 Contemporary Asian Artists, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan 1979 Sao Paolo Biennale 1973 Contemporary Indian Art, a traveling exhibition U. S. A. 1959 Sao Paolo Biennale 1959 Tokyo Biennale, Japan 1958 Venice Biennale, Italy 1957 Tokyo Biennale, Japan Honours and Awards 2010 Padma Bhushan from Government of India 2003 Officers Arts et Letters, French Government 1986 Kalidas Samman, Madhya Pradesh State Government 1972 Premchand Puraskar, Uttar Pradesh State Government for Meri Priya Kahaniyan, a collection of short stories in Hindi 1972 Padmashree, Government of India 1970 J. D. Rockefeller III Fellowship, New York 1959 Honorable Mention, Sao Paolo Biennale 1958 National Award, New Delhi 1956 National Award, New Delhi