“Art is always ahead of time. Tomorrow they will understand it,” said MF Husain, the Piccaso of India. Ramya Sadasivam, a Chennai-based artist, agrees.
The 33-year-old self-taught artist is skilled in various forms of paintings, such as figurative art — which includes nude paintings, an untapped market in the country. This aspect of her work, she says, has at times put her on the wrong side of the moral police. But she hopes people will slowly learn to appreciate nude paintings as just art.
Sadasivam’s quest for the art form began at a very young age, when she saw her mother painting a princess with a crown using water colours. “I was interested in painting from my childhood. After finishing my Class 12 board exams, I didn’t know how to carry forward my interest. I never knew I needed to join a fine arts college, so I just joined a regular college, completed my graduation in biotechnology, and did an MBA,” Sadasivam says.
“It was peak recession period when I finished my MBA, so I wasn’t able to get a proper job. I used that time effectively to learn painting. Initially, my family didn’t know I was planning to pursue painting as my career. After a certain point in time, I told my father I was going to do this. He wasn’t sure of my abilities at the beginning. But once he saw my work, he started encouraging me. My mom was worried because she feared society would not accept my figurative works. But my family has understood my work and now my father is the one who handles the business part of it,” Sadasivam says with a smile.
Beginning with pencil portraits, she gradually moved onto the dry brush and oil paintings, and has now been pursuing art for a decade.
From still life to portrait to figurative art, Sadasivam sells her work online, and says the cost for one painting can go up to Rs 2 lakh.
When asked about her inspirations, she furnishes a list of idols.
“I am a self-taught artist, I spent hours browsing the Internet, I understood the essence of painting and decided to follow certain people. When I was learning the dry brush technique, I looked at the works of Igor Kazarin (Russian portrait painter). He is my inspiration, his paintings are close to reality.”
Explaining her work, she says: “I love still life painting and doing cultural work on it is my favourite part. The realism and sense while drawing a particular figure get me going. Sometimes, my work comes out of imagination. Otherwise, I paint whatever I see around me, such as a woman praying in a temple, kids playing on the street, pottery making, etc. I observe the lighting pattern, the composition, and the subject placement. I click a picture of them with their consent, and then begin to paint. Sometimes, in the real image, the absence of light is stronger than the shadow, so I adjust those things. Yes, the painting is a bit more dramatic than the real image, but that’s how it should be.”
Sadasivam says it takes at least 10 days to complete one large piece of figurative work.
“I started on nude figurative art after I was inspired by some works of Serge Marshennikov (Russian figurative painter). His works were very sensible and hyper-realistic. I never realised that the subject would be controversial, I just saw it as another form of art. I began practising that art form with a pencil and then moved to oil painting. I started to use the stumbling technique in my works, which gives the piece a realistic touch,” she says.
While Sadasivam initially painted her nude works from imagination, she is now receiving support from her friends, who are ready to pose for her.
“Friends have helped me a lot in shaping my career. They had no hesitation in posing naked. Also, they were so eager to see a painted version of them. I do make some changes in their appearance, like changing the structure of the face or their hair texture, so it won’t cause trouble to them,” she says.
“Women’s body parts are beautiful things. Right from their hands to thighs to breast, each is of a tapering cylinder shape, a sphere, a semi-sphere. I observe everything and work in two or three sittings to complete my work. Living in one of the hotter parts of the country, I naturally have a liking for our dark Dravidian skin colour and texture. My recent works have been of that kind,” Sadasivam adds.
When asked how she handles criticism, Sadasivam says figurative art is still in a nascent stage in India. “I have submitted my work in many exhibitions, they are rejected without a reason. Certain artists in India do figurative work but don’t put it online fearing the backlash. I do that. I have received abusive messages, people have tried to do moral policing. In any right-wing dominated state or in a conservative place like Chennai, it is difficult to be a figurative painter. But I have started to learn how to take criticism positively. I hope people will understand this piece of art soon.”
She also teaches art to children above 12 years of age and to adults. They are taught about still life painting, the essence of lighting, etc.
Her next focus is on the LGBT community, who she says need to be respected just like any other human being.
“My next set of works will focus on the LGBT community. I want to capture their emotions, the intimacy in their relationships, etc. They need to be treated with respect, love is common for all. If my work helps them in getting that, I will be very happy,” she says.