Benaras has left a mark on me

Updated: Jan 27 2008, 05:23am hrs
Because his father wanted it, Ram Kumar studied economics while in college. It would get him a steady job he was told. But the artist in Kumar dominated, and he is today one of the finest modernist painters India has produced. Kumar, who has been wielding the brush with aplomb for years now, has also been writing stories in Hindi. He is back in the news now for his collection of 12 oil paintings that are exhibited at the Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi. In the following short interview he tells Priya Kanungo about the way his work has progressed over the years.

Like many seasoned artists today, you too started out doing figurative work and then progressed to the abstract. Why did you choose to follow this route

I think it is a part of ones own development. In art school we were first told to draw and paint the human form. I think I first began by doing figurative paintings of landscapes as a result of that teaching process. But after 10-12 years, I realised that the human form (meaning the figurative) is a distraction in my composition of a painting. It became important for me then to create something that was not similar to real life; something that left things unsaid.

Benaras has inspired you to create some of your best works. What is it about that town that keeps you so engaged

I first went with friends to Benaras in 1961 and I think everything about the place left an indelible mark on me whether it was the widows shaving their heads or the dead bodies coming there to be burnt. I kept going back but in the last five years I haven't visited Benaras on purpose. This is because I want my conception of the town to get as abstract as possible so that I can paint it better. Seeing the reality of Benaras now would, I think, detract from what I have in mind.

How is todays art scenario in India different from what it was when you started out

Today, young people are taking to painting as a full-time profession. Many of them are seriously trying to find their own language of expression. But 50 years ago when I started out, it was difficult to sell even a single painting at an exhibition. So painting couldn't be a whole-time profession. That is why I worked in a bank in Shimla which eventually closed down. I also worked as a journalist for a while. Of course once I went to Paris to study art, I focused only on painting.