Ram Kumar's landscapes often straddle the boundaries between abstraction and naturalism, quoting both but succumbing to neither. After studying in Paris with Fernand Leger in 1950, his style as a figurative painter was imbued with a melancholic realism drawing upon the diverse influences of Modigliani, Kollwitz, Hopper, Courbet and the Mexican Muralists. In the 1960s, Ram Kumar abandoned figuration after a pivotal journey to Benares. With a cool palette of aquas, blues, greys and tawny yellows, his prime motifs oscillate between the numerous visitations to he made to this holy city and the open vistas that are in essence painterly mementos of his life's journeys.
Though Ram Kumar lives in New Delhi where he also writes fiction, Benares as the Eternal City, has pre-occupied him for over four decades. He describes his first visit in a 1996 interview as follows:
It was the middle of winter. And I had reached the city late at night. The dimly lit lanes were deserted and gave the impression of a ghostly deserted city. 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. Wandering along the ghats in a vast sea of humanity, I saw faces like masks bearing marks of suffering and pain similar to the blocks, doors and windows jutting out of dilapidated old houses, palaces, temples. Sitting on the steps of Manikarnika Ghat, watching dead bodies some brought from distant villages in boats, waiting for their turn at liberation, I almost felt the disappearing boundary line between life and death. The temples of death, the smoke rising from funeral pyres, the wailing 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. 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. (Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, New Delhi, 1996, p. 89)