Painter, sculptor, graphic artist and designer, A. Ramachandran is not only among India’s most distinguished artists, but also a seasoned storyteller. Whether recalling a golden childhood in Kerala or recounting life-altering encounters with uncompromising masters of art, he does it with grace, finesse and empathy.
Illustrated with a selection of his best drawings and artworks, this book begins with a delightful autobiographical essay in which he tells us about his early fascination with oil paintings, temples, and the clock, besides his first Mona Lisa, whom he painted at the age of twelve: the maidservant. He follows it up with several captivating pieces of prose that reveal the depth, passion and humaneness of one of the finest minds at work in India.
A student of Malayalam literature, Ramachandran was deeply influenced by such stalwarts as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Saadat Hasan Manto. In a career spanning six decades, his art practice underwent vital changes, moving from mythical forms to realism after he witnessed the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in the 1980s. ‘I thought I’ll never do a political painting,’ he says. ‘After all, a painting is a beautiful object. A dead Christ is a beautiful painting.’
Ramachandran has ceaselessly experimented with visual language. In a life devoted to constant learning, his vision and style changed from sombre expressionism to lyrical and metaphysical engagement with nature. In the process, he has explored diverse scales and mediums.
In prose that is as remarkable as his art, he captures every episode that made his life eventful and turned him into the master he is.
‘The commingling of the organic and the decorative and the transformation of the liveliness of the first into the vivacity of the latter is what stands out in Ramachandran’s representations of nature. In other words the crux of his art is the elevation of fact to the level of visual enchantment using the language of decoration, which he also stresses is an old Indian preoccupation. The luxury and voluptuousness of nature and painting, the very seductiveness of colour and form this foregrounds, however, also makes the reception of his painting rather problematic especially to his more critical urban viewers. . . . And it is just as we were all beginning to believe that decoration and visual pleasure can no more be concerns of serious art that Ramachandran—sensing that the modernist view of the decorative misses the oriental notion of the decorative as a distinctive representational idiom—sets out to consciously and bravely write them back into contemporary art practice and open a tradition considered closed for contemporary rearticulation. If there is a contingent irony in his practice, it is that as a modern artist Ramachandran is condemned to paint for an audience who is not experientially or, at least as yet, theoretically equipped to respond to his art with an equal measure of empathy and critical engagement.’