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RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)

Untitled (Varanasi)

RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
Untitled (Varanasi)
inscribed, signed and dated '5587 26"x26" Ram Kumar '62" (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
26½ x 25 7/8 in. (67.3 x 65.7 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Christie's New York, 13 September 2011, lot 38
Ram Kumar: Selected Works 1950-2010, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2010, p. 55 (illustrated)
New Delhi, Lalit Kala Akademi and Vadehra Art Gallery, Ram Kumar: Selected Works 1950-2010, December 2010 - January 2011
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Lot Essay

In 1960, a young Ram Kumar traveled to the pilgrimage centre of Varanasi, considered a pivotal moment in the artists life. Previously largely dedicated to figuration often stark angular depictions of Indias disenfranchised and marginal classes Kumar turned to focus his creative energy on increasingly abstracted landscapes. His push away from the figural in the late 1950s and 1960s has been celebrated as a new moment in his artistic career, inaugurating an era of darkly nuanced artistry. He maps cityscapes onto the surface of the canvas through the use of irregular gridded lines. Thick impasto provides materiality and pulse to the city, and jagged lines delimit the terrain and the sky. Symmetry is elided in favour of the spontaneity of coarse, thick irregular line work, metaphorising the irregularity of the cityscape.
Employing a somber palette including muted greens, greys, blacks, and browns, Kumar maps more than a bustling city. His is a somber exploration of the nature of urban life. Humanity, integral to his earlier work, is entirely absent, and the city is defined by gridded voids.[...] Ram Kumars figure disappeared entirely from the [...] Varanasi canvases. By banishing the figure from his kingdom of shadows, Ram Kumar was able to emphasise the nullification of humanity, and to deploy architecture and landscape as metaphors articulating cultural and psychological fragmentation [...] (R. Hoskote, 'The Poet of the Visionary Landscape',Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 37)
Though darkly commenting on urban life, Ram Kumar nonetheless channels a profound beauty that characterises his cityscapes from this period, locatable within what has been termed his Benaras phase. Banaras landscapes lift one out of the toil of the moment into the timeless world of formless memories. What he paints now is what the eye sees in the ancient city, it is rather the response of the soul to the visual impacts. This impact has released the cityscapes of artists inner world, a world built into the emotional psychological complex of the artists personality, the only true world. In these canvases he resurrects the images which have distilled into the sub-conscious, acquiring an authenticity and incorruptibility not of immediate experience.
(J. Swaminathan in Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, 1996, p. 73)

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