A Ramachandran is a major figure in the contemporary Indian art scene.Known primarily for his massive mural-like oil paintings, Ramachandran’s rich body of work-spanning five decades-includes sculptures, water colours, ink and colour drawings, miniature paintings, children’s book illustrations, stamps, ceramics and writings.His show ‘Eklinji Fantasy’ opens at lalit Kala Akademi on 12 November. He is in conversation with his former student, the artist and photographer Manisha Gera Baswani,
Born in a small principality, Attingal, you grew up with an intimacy to nature, urban kids like us have only read in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or visualised through the eyes of Roald Dahl during our growing years.
Tell us about your childhood in Kerala and subsequently your studies at Santiniketan.
I would skip across paddy fields; find my way to local temples, absorbing my surroundings, partaking in the daily rituals of a culturally rich city and at the same time fantasizing my own personal canvas. This was to leave a mark on my fertile young mind. “Go out to nature and sketch,” was the first instructions I got from my teacher, Ramkinkar Baij.at Santiniketan. Probably he got the same advice from his teacher, Nandalal Bose years back. He had faithfully followed the path into which his teacher had led him and I have also been doing the same. Alongside my recent sculptures and oil paintings, this show also exhibits almost 1500 drawings spanning my entire artistic career.
Please tell us about these drawings. It is probably the first show in the city which will exhibit so many drawings of an artist spanning a career of almost 50 years.
Drawing is a very integral part of my daily ritual. It keeps me in touch with my profession every day. It helps me record sensations that are evoked when I see something which inspires me. Just like a musician has to string the tanpura everyday to do his riyas, I too need to draw.
The drawings in the show take the viewer through an autobiographical journey .They are a window to my artistic preoccupations, my ideology, family and friends and my love for the Bhils of Rajasthan.
Is the title of the show ‘Eklinji Fantasy ‘a tribute to the Bhils?
Eklinji is the epicenter of all my interests. This magnificent oasis in Rajasthan , unchanged till, is my muse. Evoking the air of the classical bordering on the folk, Eklinji can be compared to a miniature painting for its abundance of lotus ponds, flora ,fauna ,seasons ,rituals and it’s graceful inhabitants, the Bhils. It is a place where man still lives in harmony with nature. Capturing its essence and recording their life rituals on my regular sketching trips to this land helps me arrive at my painting
One of the sculptures in this show is that of Gandhi ji. Earlier, you have sketched him, designed Indian postage stamps bearing him and done a mural on him at the Gandhi Darshan. What makes you come back to him time and again?
Gandhiji has been my greatest inspiration. As a child I was enamored by him. One of my favorite teachers was a Gandhian .He would only wear khadi. Once he invited me to his house. I made my parents buy me a khadi shirt and long shorts to wear to his house. In fact when Gandhi ji died, I was very young, but I remember crying all day long. The next day I cut his photograph from the newspaper and I put it in my puja room. So deep was my respect and love for him. As a child when you get inspired by a great person, it stays etched in your mind even when you grow old. He epitomizes the principal of morality. For me, I have endeavored to live by it in my personal as well as professional relationships. The stark simplicity of his life and philosophy is also probably what draws me to the Bhils for their harmonious coexistence with nature. This sculpture is symbolic for me .Gandhiji’s skin is sculpted in an expressionistic rough surface while I have garbed him in a glowing, reflective surfaced metallic robe .
How do you see your art now? What has been the shift for you?
I shared many common features and elements with my contemporaries before the Yayati series. But I broke away from the mainstream art movement and evolved a personal connection with nature as intrinsic to human existence. In a sense, I was revisiting the philosophy of Nandlal Bose. My intimate contact with tribals and their life was not only to represent them as they were but to take them to the realm of magical realism.
What are your views on contemporary art?
I don’t know much about contemporary art to make a qualified statement. Being an artist of an earlier generation, I prefer not to sit in judgement of younger artists. They belong to a world influenced by technology and global culture which I neither know nor live by. But I am aware that there are many intelligent and active Kerala artists who are far ahead of artists from other states. Their educational background and political awareness gives them a sound base in formulating personal expressions.
What does your hometown Kerala mean to you?
At this age, I don’t feel at home even in my own house. These thoughts are relevant when one is young. For me, my emotional association with Kerala ended when I finished my book on the Kerala murals. To publish my research of forty years was an obligation I owed to my land of birth. The Kerala murals are part of my cultural inheritance. I felt they needed to be preserved and recorded. At my age, going to Kerala has as much complexity involved as going to any metropolitan city. Therefore, I prefer to visit a place like Udaipur, where life is still not that complex even though basic amenities are less. I feel I am at a winding up stage. I do not have too many attachments any more..