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Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art / Ram Kumar (Indian, 1924-2018) Untitled
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Private Collection, Delhi; patrons of the artist.
Private Collection, Delhi; acquired by the vendor from the above in 2014.
To see similar works dating from 1965 and 1966 respectively in terms of their composition, see, Vadehra Art Gallery, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi 1996, p. 101 and p. 99.
Kumar first visited Varanasi (formerly Banaras) in 1960 and the years from 1960-65 are usually referred to as his 'Banaras period'. This work captures that typical ghostly flavour of Kumar's landscapes, devoid of human beings, and which teeter on the verge of being abstract. He seemed to find this quality in Varanasi and it ties in with the traditionally spiritual nature of the city, though the full-blown emergence of both the abstraction and the spiritual is commonly held to come to the fore in his post-Varanasi work. The art critic Richard Bartholomew commented: 'He had gone to the city to interpret its visual experience in terms of colour and forms. The confrontation was intense - the doorways, arches and steps were his themes. The meander of forms constituted a dramatic structure. He noted the structure of the city as a relic, its wharfage and haven for the philosophy of death and passage of time.' (Thought, 11th March 1961, quoted in G. Gill (ed.), Ram Kumar: a Journey Within, New Delhi 1996, p. 102).
Perhaps the works' produced during this period are best explained by Kumar himself,
'In the solitary mountains of Simla, I became familiar for the first time with the new Kashi from the novels of Sarat Chandra when I was a small school boy. Somehow this fascinating, mysterious name was related to old age, windows, the river Ganga and death. At that time, I had never dreamt that it would become so significant to me both as an artist as well as a human being, that its shadow will linger on for such a long time.
I had gone to Banaras for the first time about 35 years ago. It was in the middle of winter. And I had reached the city late at night. The dimly lit lanes were deserted and gave an impression of a ghostly deserted city. Except for the occasional howl of stray dogs, all was quiet. I thought the city was inhabited only by the dead and their dead souls. It looked like a haunted place and still remains the same.
The main purpose of coming to Banaras was to make some sketches on the spot and feel its depth and intensity. I had to see and feel the city in terms of lines and forms with a new visual experience.
Wandering along the ghats in a vast sea of humanity, I saw faces likes masks bearing marks of suffering and pain, similar to the blocks, doors and windows jutting out of dilapidated old houses, palaces, temples, the labyrinths of lanes and bylanes of the old city, hundreds of boats - I almost saw a new word, very strange, yet very familiar, very much my own.
Sitting on the steps of Manikarnika Ghat, watching dead bodies some brought from distant villages in boats, waiting for their turn for liberation, I almost felt the disappearing boundary line between life and death. The temples of death, the smoke rising from funeral pyres, the waiting of the relatives of the dead, and the river Ganga flowing slowly without a sound - I could not remain a silent observer. And then the mysterious steps on every ghat emerged from the river leading upward to enter the dark labyrinths of the city which was submerged in the stark reality of daily life. The sacred Ganga in Varanasi is unique in the world. The city emerging at its bank has an overwhelming impact on people.
Every sight was like a new composition, a still life artistically organized to be interpreted in colours. It was not merely outward appearances which were fascinating but they were vibrant wit an inner life of their own, very deep and profound, which left an everlasting impression on my artistic sensibility. I could feel a new visual language emerging from the depths of an experience.
Ram Kumar, 1996 in Vadehra Art Gallery, Ram Kumar: a Journey Within, New Delhi 1996, p. 89.
In addition to the work being signed on the reverse, the work is also signed in Devanagari to the lower right.