RAMESHWAR BROOTA: AN ENDURING FRIENDSHIP
“Any private collection must inevitably reflect the tastes and preferences of the collectors, and will passionately pursue certain selected avenues, perhaps at the expense of others that are left unexplored, because when first encountered they did not ignite the same thrill or arouse the same curiosity […] Jane and Kito de Boer emphasize precisely how they intentionally sought to maintain the personal dimension, to acquire only the works they loved, to resist the temptation to fill what others perceived as gaps, and to keep at bay the dead hand of academic balance.” (R. Dean and G. Tilloston eds., Modern Indian Painting: Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 6) The de Boers' comprehensive and tenacious acquisitions of Rameshwar Broota’s work perfectly illustrates the "personal dimension" they sought to maintain in their collecting. The couple was not interested in “filling the gaps” in their collection. Instead, they were wholeheartedly committed to acquiring artworks that moved and stimulated them aesthetically and intellectually, a response they cultivated through their close friendship with artists like Broota.
Jane and Kito have often recounted that the one artist who transformed their collecting journey was Rameshwar Broota. The purchase of a monumental canvas by Broota became a defining moment on their journey as collectors. As Kito explained, “Getting hooked is that moment when you cross the fine line between passion and obsession. It creeps up on you. For us, the moment of realization that we had crossed that line was when we bought Broota’s large triptych Traces of Man V […] We had no logical reason to buy a mammoth monochrome ‘scratching.’ In fact, we bought two others from the same series at the same time. We bought them because we had no choice. It is a rare moment to confront a work that is magnificent: work of such originality, purity and passion that is not possible to turn away. We were never the same again. We never asked another sensible ‘decorative’ question.” (R. Dean & G. Tilloston eds., Ibid., 2019, p. 13) The large canvas, Traces of Man V, took Broota eleven months to finish. When the couple visited the artist’s studio and saw the seminal work, the very tired Broota discouraged them from buying the painting because he wasn’t satisfied with it. Six months later when he saw the painting in the de Boers home, which they chose based on whether it had a wall large enough for this work, he was finally gratified.
This was the beginning of a very special relationship between the de Boers and Broota. Over the years, the couple remained committed to building a collection that represents Broota’s vision and unique practice, becoming two of his most important patrons in the process. In the foreword of the catalogue, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, which was published to accompany the artist’s eponymous retrospective at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in 2015, Kito de Boer discussed how Broota’s oeuvre had been largely underexplored and needed to be illuminated. From his passionate note, it was clear that the couple was dedicated to playing a key role in this illumination, unveiling “one of India’s finest treasures.”
Silent Structures, painted in 1991, is a brooding, monochromatic, abstract work from Rameshwar Broota’s Metamorphosis series. The painting comprises sharp, free-floating architectural forms that have been carefully created by slowly scraping away layers of paint with a razor blade. The sculptural technique and angular forms lend a three-dimensionality to the painting and evidence the artist's labor intensive creative process.
Following his overtly figurative and political works of the previous decades, in the 1990s Broota came to believe that the directness of his social commentary diluted the aesthetics of his work. He was not interested in limiting his practice to personal circumstances and imagery. Instead he was drawn to creating a minimal and universal language by developing his own technique. The artist began working on a series of paintings with intricately textured surfaces that featured architectural and organic forms divorced of any specific location in time or space. This contrasted with the central male figure which had hitherto been the main subject of Broota’s oeuvre.
Discussing Broota’s works from this period, Roobina Karode notes, “Metamorphosis introduces a shock element as the artist struggles to refine his departure from the dominant position of the male as ‘heroic and virile.’ The ravaging forces of time reinforce the desire for the impossible – a life of permanence. Broota is preoccupied with the disappearance of the material body, its disintegration, leaving behind an exposed web of nerves and veins held on their fragile edge.” (R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, p. 106)
Although Broota’s male figure is conspicuously absent in this composition, the artist references it through the anthropomorphizing of natural and architectural forms. During this period, his work oscillated between painting close-ups of the male body such as the face, fingers, limbs, torso or phallus and free floating architectural forms. Silent Structures, with its mesmerizing geomorphic landscape, reveals Broota as one of the most cerebral painters of his generation, retreating from direct representation and looking deep within himself in search of universal truths.