‘In the dark times
Will there be singing?
Yes,There will be singing
Of the dark times’.
Bertolt Brecht, 1938 Svendborg Poems
Brecht’s poem reminds us that the best of artists often lived through the darkest of events. His poetry is rooted in his time but speaks across the generations. Similarly, V Ramesh’s new series of paintings have emerged from the pandemic, but remain grounded in the inspiring medieval devotional poetry that is aphoristic, while sparking thought on the contrasting metaphors of the transience and ephemerality of life.
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 36" x 36", 202133 x 36 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 36" x 36", 202130 x 36 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 36" x 36", 202136 x 36 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 48" x 36", 202148 x 36 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 36" x 46", 202136 x 46 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 46" x 36", 202136 x 46 inches
V. Ramesh, watercolour on paper 45" x 36", 202145 x 36 inches
v., watercolour on paper 36" x 96", 202136 x 96 inches
One of the themes that have occupied V. Ramesh is the connectedness of mankind through a oneness of human experience or existence. He constantly questions the physicality of the body and tries to go beneath the skin in order to develop a plural idiom in his art practice. The idea of the sacred runs through his works as a muted melody, however this coexists in a dynamic diversity of images from disparate origins, through sustained connections. Ramesh speaks of suffusing his subjects with his feelings and strong emotional resonances during the act of painting. This makes the ordinary-looking mundane daily objects become extraordinary.
Multiplicity of inspiration and diversity of images and connections have engaged him ideationally over many years and encouraged him to devise his own original painterly visual vocabulary. Such intercultural and inter-textual influences have shaped him during this period of incubation and search that started at Tiruvannamalai in the Ramana ashram over twenty years ago. He sees his works as explorations of humanity, our individual existence and being- not necessarily through the images of human figures but every material object that surrounds us. Using his wide vocabulary to paint the bursting physicality in nature, he states that some of his most interesting works have often come out of very trivial, simple or mundane ideas that he articulates with great sophistication in his compositions. The brass vessels lying around his home and studio in
Visakhapatnam have formed the initial base for this series but it was a daunting task to connect images of a diverse nature and animate them in a dynamic interaction with the realms of poetry and spirituality.
The still life series currently on view at Gallery Threshold carry strong emotional resonance and are much more than the physical objects they represent as either memento mori or vanitas genres. The various stations of his quest reappear transformed into a fuller experience. The process of painting engaged him over the pandemic period in an intensive yet spontaneous quest to retrace his journey afresh by using watercolours and gouache. Ramesh relates that in a way, it was also a kind of opening up for him, something that was so solid, a pot and flowers, he wanted to open them up and see what was happening inside. He discusses how when an artist wants to use a definite image or a form, it does not stay at that level but it seems to oscillate with some kind of energy or some
life of its own which has the potential for transformation into something else metaphorically.
Ramesh looks for that transparency of being able to look through a membrane of a vessel and see whole worlds in its interior. Rather like the doha of Kabir which invokes the image of transformed worlds in the inner space contained in the water vessel. Ramesh’s water colours have that same quality- of allowing the viewer to be able to look through something that is impermeable and instilling or imbuing these images with poetic metaphors. Ramesh loves to juxtapose that which is alive in contrast to something which is deteriorated showing the impermanence of the body. These are a continuation of the ideas that he has been articulating in different formats earlier, often with medieval poetry from female poets like Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded and Karaikkal Amma. The water colour series is about the human condition which finds a reflection related through simple everyday objects. In several paintings, the idea of decaying beauty or its transitory nature can be seen such as the one with the brass kamandalu, water vessel with screw type lid, with detailed hyper-realistic canna lily flowers inside. In the tryptych featuring the flowering cycle of hibiscus flowers, the sequence follows the buds of the first painting- as they bloom in the second in an abstract swirling energy of petals filled with motion and vibrant colour to a state of decay in the third. Ramesh speaks eloquently of his conviction that only in change can there be renewal and fresh energies. Nothing is static, he says, as soon as you become static, you decay. Symbolically, the first two vessels remain open mouthed while the third closes tight against this renewal that the artist calls for.
The second diptych is another emotional response to the pandemic in its reference to the curving marigold plant whose impression and fragility is seen in lace-like, detailed response in one panel. But soon withers and turns to the brown wash that carries metaphors of destruction that surround
the strong standing open-mouthed bowl that gathers the nectar of good memories. Ramesh recalls times of despair as well as moments of great happiness and beauty in this series of new
Ramesh often uses the technique of screen printing with water colour which is then repeatedly
washed away to allow for a complex layering of forms and images. It is in the adding of form upon image in plural and polyphonic ways that create such intricate surfaces in Ramesh’s work allowing the images to come alive thus making inter-connnections- like the faint indigo blue Ravi Verma oleograph of a lady with stalks of dead roses stretched across the washed and layered background.
The intentions and pictorial elements of his quest reappear transformed into a different experience as he renders contemporary realities into a viable pictorial alternative. The grey painting with vase and lines was actually started in 2019 and the re-working with repeated washes has allowed it to evolve and metamorphized into one of the most potent works in the series, as according to Ramesh, it holds every emotional residue of what he has gone through over the last one and a half years.
From his collection of old South Indian terracotta clay toys, Ramesh chose the form of a soldier for one of the compositions that looks very benign and innocent but is also a figure of authority symbolising the way in which events in the pandemic unfolded around the country. The background has been repeatedly sponged thereby erasing traces of some of the earlier stencilled textures to create Ramesh’s layered unity of multiple identities and realities. He made a conscious choice to favour hybridity against notions of purity and the multiple layering against preoccupations with a singular background. This has been liberating for him as besides re-looking at simple objects, he has succeeded in the grounding of imagery in time and place by re-imagining and even creating memory.
Threshold Art Gallery
C- 221 Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi.