At a press conference last year, writer and curator S.Kalidas had recounted how a chanced meeting between artists M.F.Husain and Ram Kumar blossomed into an everlasting bond. The two, according to Kalidas, had met during India’s largest exhibition on Indian classical sculptures in the Capital. The Mumbai-based Husain was new to the city and he didn’t have a place to stay. So, he met Ram Kumar during the show where they became friends and then Husain stayed at his house.
This anecdote holds a precious insight into the life of India’s one of the foremost abstractionist artists Ram Kumar who died on early Saturday morning in a hospital in east Delhi. He was 94. With his death, India lost a “gentle” and “reticent” soul who would always be remembered as a “true chronicler of art”.
The story-telling was always integral to his life. But before he turned to canvas, he used pen to tell the stories which were published as short stories in Hindi. Then a brief stint as a journalist followed. However, brushstrokes became his primary tools of expression through which he initially narrated the tales of the disposed refugees. The smooth transition from being a figurative to an abstractionist makes him a central figure among the modernists for not fearing the unconventional.
In 1960 he travelled to Varanasi with Husain, and this marked a turning point in his life and this magical city remained his muse for life. From here on abstract landscapes became his main subject, rendered time and again as an amalgamation of colours and textures. His landscapes often straddled the boundaries between abstraction and naturalism, quoting both but succumbing to neither.
It was the ‘Varanasi ’series that brought the spotlight on his artistic oeuvre. In one of the interviews he had said that the “Benares was important to him both as an artist and a human being.”
Ram Kumar had exhibited his works in solo and group shows in London, New York, France, Japan and India. Those who knew him described him as “the gentle human being”. According to photographer Parthiv Shah, who had clicked intimated portraits of Ram Kumar and Husain, the artist was a recluse who spoke very little but observed quite a lot. “He lived a simple life. He was a simple man who never really wanted to be in the spotlight.”
“His art was truthful, something you don’t see these days,” he concludes.
Photo Credit: Manisha Gera Baswani