Sunday, August 14, 2005

The work of the Contemporary Indian Painter, Ramesh Darji

(not to be quoted or published without permission)

Dear Ambassador, Dear dignitaries and Invited guests,

it is an honour to be asked to place Ramesh Darji's work in the context of 5000 years of Indian painting - though I have only a few minutes in which to do it! And I will do so by means of seven key observations.

Let me start by saying that I was immediately struck by Ramesh's work the very first time I saw it. It has become totally unexpected to have contemporary paintings with no melancholy in them, no abstractions of colour which express and embody the painter's negative feelings, no rage - human beings not distorted or chopped up. Instead, here is elegant, inspiring, uplifiting, cheering work combining what Ramesh sees with what he feels. In Western painting, either the emotion finds non-figurative expression, or what is there (landscapes, still life) becomes a substitute for emotion. And in conceptual art, the concept is sometimes so strong compared to the depiction, that you wonder whether it is really art. Which naturally raises the question "What is art?"

Well, with Darji, there is no doubt that this is art. This is rare work where what is SEEN works not only with what is FELT but also with what is THOUGHT, to produce works of BEAUTY. Of course not all that is beautiful is artistic and art is not always "beautiful". But Darji's art is beautiful because it flows out of a genuinely beautiful human being. And he is a genuinely beautiful human being because his thoughts and his feelings, his heart and his eye and his outstandingly skilled painterly hand, have all been refined and purified emotionally and spiritually since his transforming encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Lord, whom he met when he was a young student and with whom he has walked these many years. Ramesh's work is therefore the response of a transformed Indian sensibility to - or we may say, a conversation between a transformed Indian sensibility - and landscapes and people, and indeed art itself, whether Indian or European.

You will have seen that Ramesh's work has developed in three distinct phases. He was born and brought up and trained in India, where he won the Gold Medal at the Art Academy in Mumbai in 1970. His first solo exhibition was in 1982 where his expansive "black and white" works, the Touch of Class series, were a huge success and his entire output till then was sold out in four days! Fortunately for us, he has continued working in that style, and we have some of that represented here. His men and women are not beautiful in a conventional sense but his simplification of form has much of the purity and balance which Gupta period sculptors brought to the dreaming Buddhas of the Indo-Greek school of painting.

His second style, which we might call his Dutch style, developed after he moved to Holland in 1987 with his wife Paula, who we are honoured to have with us today, as well as their delightful children, Nunita and Faresha. If you see some cubism in his work or motifs such as tulips or jazz and blues and western classical music, that is where they originate, though cubism and indeed impressionism immediately influenced Indian art because India was so well linked to international trends, thanks to the British Empire.

The third phase in his work began when Ramesh moved with his family to England some six years ago, and landscapes as well as what may be called his "Fusion" paintings start here.

Naturally, the dialogue with European landscapes and life and art, you are much better placed to comment on than I am. However, I now come to my seven key observations about Ramesh's work in the context of Indian painting.

First, Ramesh's Touch of Class series departs from the tradition of Indian folk & tribal art, which manifests itself in scrolls and souvenirs and village patas - "primitive" paintings on clay surfaces. An important development of that indigenous folk art school was Kalighat painting. Apart from their glowing colors - red, yellow, blue, green, black - the strongest point of the "flat" Kalighat painting, with its judiciously borrowed shadings sparingly used, was its lines. The Kalighat style has influenced the whole folk genre in contemporary Indian art; starting with Jamini Roy, but including Ramananda Bandopadhyaya, Manjit Bawa, Madhavi Parekh, and Sakti Burman. If Jamini Roy was seeking to:
- capture the essence of simplicity embodied in the life of the folk people;
- to make art accessible to a wider section of people; and
- to give Indian art its own identity,
you can see that Ramesh's A Touch of Class series seeks to do that too but by using very different materials and techniques.

Second, much of Indian painting is obviously religious in theme, starting with the cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora, around 200 B.C. While Ramesh's work is NOT obviously religious in its themes and motifs at all, his work is highly spiritual, as you will see from the titles of many of his paintings as well as from the few hints that he places here and there, such as the doves or other birds that are a hallmark of his work.

Third, some of his work has been if not quite on the same scale as the cave paintings, certainly on a massive scale which captures some of the qualities peculiar to fresco (sadly we have none of the massively large-scale paintings here today).

Fourth, India has a tradition of illuminated manuscripts and book illustrations from medieval times. I think you can all see that Ramesh has taken that genre and done something unique with it. Here is the kind of art that MIGHT be in a book, but is not…he has taken the genre quite outside itself, in a way similar to what Amrita Sher-Gil did in bringing the influence of Pahari miniatures to large scale using different techniques of course in canvasses such as "The Story Teller".

Fifth, though we Indians had sophisticated means of rendering the human figure and specifically the human face, this achieved its most marked development in the court paintings and portraits of the Indo-Persian school from the 15th century onward, and with the patronage of the Moghuls from the sixteenth century, when the royal atelier produced highly innovative bird and animal studies as well as landscapes. You find that Ramesh's work is a conversation with that traidition, and a challenge to that tradition, and a development of that tradition, specifically in the context of his European experience.

Sixth, you may be aware of the Ragamalas of Rajasthan, of Kangra and of the Pahari school in the Himalayan foothills. At times not only the musical modes (ragamala) were represented pictorially, but also seasons and moods - all in fine detail though typically in a miniature format. I don't recollect seeing Ramesh do anything quite like that, but he has done their equivalent in his larger scale capturing of Jazz and Blues and classical music in his Dutch style.

Seventh, you can see that Ramesh's latest, Fusion works, use montage and takes off from the Bengal school which emphasized handicrafts and which was, in its own way a fusion with Japanese art Ramesh's Fusion series also takes off from K. G. Subramanyan's juxtaposition ofcontemporary art with popular culture, and folk art with urban trends. However, Ramesh's Fusion work is in complete contrast to his most famous contemporaries Francis Newton Souza and Maqbool Fida Husain, whose work is so infuenced by Expressionism and Surrealism, by Emil Nolde and Oskar Kokoschka. However, you do have in Ramesh's work something of Natvar Bhavsar's throbbing and breathing colour, and of Nasreen Mohamedi's minimalist ink drawings, as well as Krishna Reddy's multiple printmaking techniques.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no doubt gone on too long, and I could still go on, comparing Ramesh to other contemporary Indian painters in terms of style and form and materials and substance and point of view. However, I want to conclude by saying that Ramesh's work flows out of and develops the art tradition of India in wholly unique and unusual manner, but in a manner entirely worthy of the great but unkown artists of India's dim but beloved past.

Coming to the present, you will have noticed that this is not a gallery, so we have no professional display or lighting here, but as this is only the second private viewing of his work in Switzerland, we hope that it will be a sort of introduction to his work, which is in individual and corporate collections mostly in India, the USA, the Netherlands and the UK. Perhaps some of you know galleries in which his work ought to be exhibited, so that next time we will have his work properly displayed - this is merely the attempt of a few of his enthusiastic admirers, having failed so far to interest the more obvioius places in his work over the last few years, to introduce his work in Switzerland, specially as Indian art is underpriced by world standards but is now rising in popularity as well as price the world over.
Thank you. Sphere: Related Content