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Young at Art

City-based master artist and sculptor A Ramachandran on his creative process and what keeps him going at 85

Young at Art

For the artist A Ramachandran, age is just a number.

Veteran artist A Ramachandran lives up to the adage: 'age is just a number'. The 85-year-old artist challenges every cliché that comes with chronology as he swiftly moves around, giving us a guided tour of his home and studio in East Delhi’s Bharati Artist Colony. He has the alertness of a 16- year-old - his eyes and ears catch every movement and question. The giant canvas that he finished signing two days ago quietly dispels all our doubts - it is his art that keeps him young.

His latest canvas is another sublime view of the lotus pond - something that the artist has been creating for more than five decades. This Padma Bhushan awardee, recently conferred with the Lifetime Achievement honour at the India Today Art Awards, is known worldwide for his profound love for depicting the lotus and the lotus pond. The seeds of this life-long fascination with the lotus were sown at Santiniketan, where the artist, originally from Attingal, Kerala, was studying under prominent artists such as Ramkinkar Baij and Benode Behari Mukherjee.

He says, "My teachers developed a pedagogy that was different from other art schools. Right from the first year, students were asked to go out into the open and sketch. They believed in Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophy that you should have an intimate connection with nature, which was very different from British the schools of art."

Ramachandran took this philosophy to another level as he would often go out and visit the Santhal tribes and take inspiration from them for his art.

His hunger for knowledge wasn’t limited to art alone. A graduate in Malayalam literature from the University of Kerala, he was part of the literary movement in the state. He rubbed shoulders with some of the best names in the literary circuit before deciding to pursue his love for art. Ramachandran believes growing up amid abundant nature contributed to his art. "We used to make balls from a coconut," he recalls.

In the late 1970s, Ramachandran again went on a quest to draw inspiration from nature this time towards Udaipur where he discovered a world of lotus ponds in the man-made lake behind the famous Eklingji temple. He accompanied a few boys on the boat and was completely enamoured by what he saw. "When I was travelling in a boat, the vegetation of the lake was six feet above me: like a monsoon forest. The leaves would give me way and would close when I would pass. When you looked up, you could only see fragments of the sky. It was almost like getting into the mother’s womb." That experience, perhaps, shaped his lifelong relationship with the lotus.

As a struggling artist in Kolkata and later Delhi, Ramachandran did some paintings with strong political messages. "What I wanted to talk with those paintings I don’t know but in those days it was a struggling young man’s vision of the world, which was more cynical. I was also influenced by Mexican artists and their idea of a political painting and that paintings are supposed to be a political commnentary," he says. But all that changed after 1984 when he witnessed some heartbreaking scenarios during the anti-Sikh riots. "It was all so grotesque. After that, I started thinking - an artist is making an object that’s supposed to be beautiful. Bringing politics into art is trespassing. Whatever you do, your colour or lines, you’re striving to create something beautiful. I decided there are so many beautiful things in the world to paint and showcase. For me, Sunflowers is greater than Guernica even if Guernica has a message. A great painting is a great painting without having any strong message too and I try to avoid all political messages in my painting," says the artist who has taught in the art department of Jamia Millia Islamia University for 30 years.

Over the decades, Ramachandran has seen the Indian art world evolve, "Artists got recognition thanks to MF Husain and people now know that a painting can fetch a lot of money."

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