UNTITLED (THE DALHOUSIE LANDSCAPE)
UNTITLED (THE DALHOUSIE LANDSCAPE)
Oil on board
32 1/2 x 20 1/8 in. (82.5 x 51 cm.)
Signed in Devanagari and dated '63' upper right
In the introductory essay to Ram Kumar's solo exhibition held at the Kunika Gallery in New Delhi in 1961, Richard Bartholomew states, 'Ram Kumar is now in Ranikhet, between pines, 6000 feet high, happy that he can paint in peace those landscapes of the mind.. A quiet man, a quiet painter, and a painter of the remembrance of things past, this is the life for Ram Kumar.' (Richard Bartholomew, 'Ram Kumar', exhibition catalogue, Kunika, New Delhi, 1961, reproduced in Richard Bartholomew, The Art Critic, New Delhi, 2012, p. 135)
Although the current work was painted in 1963, two years after Richard Bartholomew wrote the essay for his show, the quotation is equally pertinent to this painting. The work represents an early example of a 'post Varanasi' landscape, where not only have the figures disappeared, but even the identifiable structures of city or environment have receded, and geometric forms dominate. The compositions from 1962 and 1963 have evolved rapidly from the late figurative phase of Ram Kumar's career (see lot 28). They have even gone beyond the more literal treatment of the early Varanasi landscapes first created in 1960, where architectural forms are gathered tightly along an identifiable riverbank. Instead, we are confronted with the luminous potential of paint and the first aerial abstractions of the hill landscapes.
The key point, is that by 1959, Ram Kumar appears to have become dissatisfied with the mute despair of the central human protagonists in his paintings, and began looking for a new path for his artistic expressions. The change of method appears suddenly in 1960, and it coincides with his now famous trip to Benaras with fellow artist M.F. Husain. Although critics have rightly identified this trip as an important catalyst for the change in his artistic focus, a return to the hills of his youth is possibly an equally important factor in this artistic shift.
'In the 1960s and 70s there is a radical shift in Ram Kumar's work, the paintings continue to be austere and anguished but they cease to include human figures. It is as if he decides to give up on man and his social fate, and tries to find his own solitary path towards vision. The quest is hard and long.' (Alok Bhalla, Introductory Essay, The Sea and Other Stories by Ram Kumar, Shimla, 1997, p. xv)
From this point forward, Kumar chooses the city or nature rather than the individual as a persona through which to express his themes. The dramatic moods of his early figurative paintings are retained in these canvases, but the works attain an austerity, a certain ascetic purity of line and tone. This crystallising of forms that begins in 1960 is an artistic journey that continues for many years to come, a process where form and the orchestration of colour become central to the artistic process. Yet, the paintings themselves retain a sense of the desolation or loss he had expressed in his earlier work, interspersed with quiet allusions to the possibility of transcendence.
'These greys are quiet, as nudes are quiet. They are virtuoso greys shot with green and blue and lemon-yellow. With a base of ochre of red sometimes. The themes now are not people or mountains or streets or trees or rivers or mudbanks. Large themes, the paintings are bird's-eye of large tracts of nature. They are seen from a height, and from a great distance. Hence, the element of mist and mazes. Of much that is remembered and much that is imagined. There are small calligraphic strokes, little dashes and dots of excitement, some triangles to lend thrust, some full and encrusted circles of isolation...The muse is now lyrical and Ram Kumar muses gently, with melancholy, or nostalgia.' (Bartholomew, op. cit., p. 135)
About The Artist:
RAM KUMAR (1924 - 2018)