V Ramesh’s large-scale oils probe the ideas of devotion and transcendence through the poetry of medieval saints. The artist paints in layers and employs mythological and metaphorical imagery to translate philosophical abstractions into a language of colours and images. Twenty-four of his works from the past decade will be on view at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore, starting February 5, in what will be the prestigious State-run gallery’s first solo show in the city.
One recent painting tells the story of Kodhai or Andal, a 5th-century Tamil poetess who, tasked with delivering garlands to Lord Vishnu’s temple every day, first wore them herself. Another shows the emaciated image of Karaikkal Amma, who asked Shiva to turn her into a wraith so she could be free to worship him. Part of a large installation called ‘Sanctum Sanctorum: A Corner for Four Sisters’, these are intimate accounts of women who refused to conform and found god in their own way. Ramesh spoke to National Standard on the passion of the poets, classical music and other inspirations. Excerpts:
How did you come to discover and draw inspiration from mystical poetry?
A large body of my work came about after a visit to Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai in 1998. That acted as a catalyst. It wasn’t an overnight change but it did change the way I looked at the world. It was there, in the ashram library, that I came across a whole lot of devotional poets. Since then, the images and poetry of Manikkavachakar, Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, and Andal, have figured in my work frequently. I have done four or five versions of all these poets. I would still like to paint them. I have changed and my whole way of painting them, articulating them, will also change.
My going to the ashram and my bhakti towards Ramana — I did a whole series on him, called Painted Hymns — is reflected obliquely through the works and the words of the poets. I had to translate this language into my language of colours and images. This is broadly the background that informs all my work.
Is this the first time you are showing your paintings in Bangalore?
I exhibited here ages ago — in 1991 at Sakshi Gallery, and before that in 1982 as a student at Venkatappa Art Gallery. This body of work is significant. I have shown it in Delhi and Bombay. Perhaps it is the right context for this work to be presented in Bangalore. I live in south India, in Vishakhapatnam, so it feels right to exhibit here. I think Bangalore is a much more happening place in terms of art than Hyderabad. Next year, continued…