At 94, Indian Modernist Artist and Padma Bhushan Awardee Ram Kumar Breathes His Last

On Saturday the 14th of April, one of India’s foremost abstract painters, Ram Kumar, passed away in New Delhi. Over his lifetime, Kumar presented a new direction to Abstract Art in the Indian modern art space. 

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“I like spending time in my studio. I paint for myself. I’ve sold a lot and there’s no charm in selling my work anymore. People do ask for my work; if they come, I show them what I have, but now I want to rest, not to organise exhibitions,” so stated the master artist Ram Kumar in an interview with Indian Express back in 2014. Four years since that interview, up until today morning when he breathed his last, the artist continued to paint, enjoying the oneness that he felt while making art. On this Saturday the 14th of April, one of India’s foremost abstract painters, Ram Kumar, aged 94, undertook his final journey to the heavenly abode. Ram Kumar worked and lived in New Delhi.

Through his years of work, Ram Kumar presented a new direction to the genre of Abstract Art in the Indian modern art space. He was part of the Progressive Arts Group along with SH Raza, MF Hussain, FN Souza and others. Together, this group is credited with having given a new language to Indian artistic expression. Born in 1924, in a middle-class Indian family in the hilly city of Shimla, Ram Kumar had no exposure to art during his younger years. He worked in a bank, until one day when serendipity struck. A chance visit to a Delhi Gallery in 1945 completely transformed the course of his life. Kumar left his job, started learning art, and moved to Paris where he continued to develop his artistic vision.

A lot of Kumar’s early work comprises of still-life and figurative art. This changed when he was taken on a visit to Varanasi by MF Hussain. His style transformed of its own accord, with his signature style of painting abstract landscapes emerging from this moment. The city of Varanasi – where people perform last rites – touched him deeply, giving him such a new perspective on life and death that he had not so far perceived. This had a profound bearing on his thoughts and artistic expression. He kept visiting Varanasi and created a lot of paintings there. Patches of colours, devoid of any clear outlines, drawn over one another, created surreal imagery of the landscapes he experienced there. Kumar went on to travel to Ladakh, Greece,  Prague, Venice and many other cities – and all of these sights emerged in his various works.

The overarching theme in most of Kumar’s works is of human conflict – of unexpressed pain and the dichotomy of life. At the same time, his works are visually very serene, to the extent that they are often meditative. His choice of colours and ability to use contrasts and textures to express his emotional state, make his art unparalleled. Galleries and collectors world-over have recognised Kumar’s art.

Ram Kumar was the rare kind of artist who also wrote well. During his struggling days in Paris, he earned his living by writing for a newspaper. As an author, he published 8 compilations, 2 novels and a travelogue, all written in the Hindi language.

Ram Kumar received multiple awards over his lifetime, significant ones being the Padma Bhushan (2010), Padma Shree (1972) and the John D. Rockefeller Fellowship (1970). He will continue to remain alive in people’s lives through his art, serving as an inspiration for generations of artists who are willing to express themselves through art.

The cremation is scheduled this Saturday afternoon at Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi.

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