RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
“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 with 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
RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)

Untitled (Varanasi)

RAM KUMAR (B. 1924)
Untitled (Varanasi)
signed, dated and inscribed 'Ram Kumar 1965 / 27 x 28' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
27 1/8 x 28 in. (69 x 71 cm.)
Painted in 1965
Acquired directly from the artist
The Guy H. Barbier Trust
G. Gill, Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 81 (illustrated)
Ram Kumar, Selected Works 1950-2010, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2010, p. 61 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

In 1960, Ram Kumar traveled to the pilgrimage center of Varanasi, now considered a pivotal moment in the artist's life and career. Previously dedicated to figuration - most often stark angular depictions of India's disenfranchised and marginal classes - after this trip Kumar turned to focus his creative energy on increasingly abstracted landscapes. This push away from the figural has been celebrated as a new moment in his artistic career, inaugurating an era of darkly nuanced artistry. "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)

Typical of Kumar's paintings of Varanasi during this period, this work is executed with heavy impasto in a somber, almost monochromatic palette. Here, the city is represented not through its inhabitants, but mapped onto the surface of the canvas through box-like architectural forms, wedged tightly together. Wrestling for space, their jagged edges delimit bands of sky and river above and below, which seem to shrink as these structures swell with the spirit of the city.

Describing these paintings, fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan observed, "Ram Kumar's Benares landscapes lift one out of the toil of the moment into the timeless worlds of formless memories. What he paints now is not what the eye sees in the ancient city, it is rather the response of the soul to the visual impacts. 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, Ram Kumar, A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 73)

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