V. Ramesh: Memory as Play
A collection of old oleographs and prints, some tracing back to the turn of the century, become an unlikely yet completely plausible source of inspiration. Over the last few decades, V. Ramesh has been strongly identified with art as spiritual quest. This may be seen through the prism of classical temple sculpture , or his visualization of Ramana Maharshi, as well as the women saints of the Sangam or Bhakti eras. In the present series, it was the innocence, and postures of the amorous couples on the bazaar prints that invited the revisitation of his early study on popular prints under Gulammohammed Sheikh, at MSU, Baroda. In his words: “I have retained a fascination for banner paintings, posters and cinema hoardings, which reach a wider audience, with the drama and simplistic manner of making an image.” While the prints themselves have the bright chroma, defined interiors and architectural details of popular prints, Ramesh invokes a playful iteration, to lend a nebulous nostalgia for the expressions of love.
Created at the cusp of mid 20th century cinema and popular mythic narrative, these prints are in fact the obverse of the sacred and literary culture in which Ramesh has been so immersed. Couched in public memory but rendered in watercolour wash and silk screen, the outline rather than the substance and volume of the figure creates shimmering presences, suggestive of a receding past. “There is nothing definite, I allowed myself an amorphous feeling.”
Shantanu and Matsyagandha, or Krishna and Radha from the Ravi Varma Press, captured in theatrical gestures invite the question of what is intended by liminally erasing and redacting the original image? As the figures become obscure, the artist diffuses location and time, to create images that invite self-identification. Between the figures that appear to advance and recede, the emotion of love seems to hover and speak through the work.
I have been in the recent past relooking at a set of calendar and oleograph prints in my collection. They were all images of amorous couples in romantic postures and yet there was an underlying sense of naïveté in them.
My current body of work titled – ‘Love stories’ derives its inspiration from these works – from their formal simple composition and structure, their use of bright colours as well as the decorative elements that they employed.
Four decades back I had written my dissertation on popular bazaar paintings, so this was a return to that journey, acknowledging these unknown artists who painted these grand works. ‘Love stories’ is a tribute to this style of calendar painting.
The Japanese haiku poet, Nozawa Bonchō, talks of the different ways one could have fallen in love. There is a sense of what one could have done – there is an indecisiveness. Hence to capture this, the works had to have an uncertainty, a lightness of touch. The works have to draw you in immediately with their lightness and lay of subtle and bold colours, just as calendars do.
I painted love stories but there are twists in the stories.