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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ram Kumar (1924-2018): In Memoriam

Artists Krishen Khanna, Manu Parekh, Prabhakar Kolte, Akbar Padamsee and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh recall their associations with Ram Kumar.

Written by Damini Ralleigh , Vandana Kalra , Pooja Pillai | Updated: April 16, 2018 12:39:18 am

Krishen Khanna (artist)

I first met Ram Kumar in Delhi in the ’40s, soon after the Partition. While I had a full-time job and pursued art with that, he was more active as an artist. I moved to Mumbai and later travelled to other parts of India for work but we remained in touch. We used to correspond through letters and postcards, all of which I still have. He used to visit us in Mumbai, and even though he was not a member of the Progressive Artists Group, he often exhibited with us and was close to us. He was a distinguished artist and we all held his work in high regard. When I quit my job at a bank to practice art, I remember him paying me a great compliment; he said, “Of course, you were always one of us but now that you have resigned you are more one of us.” He was reticent in person but his works were authoritative. He wasn’t quiet when he was with friends. We all grew together as artists and often had really long discussions. I will miss him dearly.

Manu Parekh (artist)

He was and will remain a very important artist. He has left behind a great body of work and it is admirable how he created abstraction in landscape, or landscape in abstraction. Whenever I spoke to him, I learned from him. He used to stay close to my house, so I often ran into him at the local market. He was gentle and clear-headed but reserved. In the middle of a conversation, he would often take a step back, sometimes even suggest the end of a conversation. He maintained a distance and was not overtly convivial. I often observed a sort of existential element in his behaviour, visible in his work as well. He was very detached. In that sense, he and his work were one.

Gulam Mohammed Sheikh (artist)

I came to know Ram Kumar from 1950 onwards but I was first introduced to him through his travelogues set in Eastern Europe, particularly in (the erstwhile) Czechoslovakia. I was quite taken by them. Later on, I met him as a young artist in Delhi and got to know him well. He was far too senior to me for us to have had a one-to-one relationship but we often discussed literature. Kafka was always a talking point; he too admired the writer. As an artist, he was steadfast and worked diligently. As a person, he was gentle and kind. Of all his works, I was most struck by his works after he visited Varanasi in the late 1950s.

Prabhakar Kolte (artist)

When Ram Kumar returned from Paris (in the mid ’50s), he was still doing some figurative work, which was also very good. But he soon found his subject in landscapes, which is what he is celebrated for today. Any artist will eventually find his subject, something that he feels he must continue doing till the end, and Ram Kumar found that in landscapes. In fact, you can’t separate him from his landscapes. He was a silent man and he somehow found an echo for his silence in the landscapes that he painted. He gave form to his silence. Even in his Varanasi works, you find that silence, which I think is remarkable. He was a great artist, but also a man of principles and faith in life, and I pay my homage to him.

Akbar Padamsee (artist)

One of my earliest memories of him is of him coming to receive SH Raza and me at the Gare Du Nord, when we went to Paris in 1950. He told us that when he had come to Paris, there was nobody to receive him and he felt bad. So he didn’t want us to be feeling the same way. He even treated us to coffee and croissants that day. Another example of him being a loyal, warm friend was the time when VS Gaitonde had a terrible accident. Ram and his wife would make sure to send him a tiffin every single day. Very few people I know would do something like that.

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