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  • Feb 20, 2024

A. Ramachandran, 1935-2024

Portrait of A. RAMACHANDRAN. Courtesy Vadehra Art Gallery.

On February 10, veteran Indian artist A. Ramachandran passed away in New Delhi at the age of 89 after suffering from kidney issues.

Born in 1935 in Attingal, Kerala, Ramachandran graduated from Kerala University with a degree in Malayalam Literature. In 1958, he moved to Santiniketan, a neighborhood in West Bengal, to attend Visva-Bharati University on a scholarship to study Kerala mural painting—one of the most significant references in the artist’s works along with Indian miniatures and Ajanta paintings—under the modernist pioneer Ramkinkar Baij. Unlike many artists at the time who mimicked foreign imagery, Ramachandran found inspiration in local scenes and landscapes. In his early years, Ramachandran was also known for his radical approach to sociopolitical paintings, including depicting starving, contorted bodies. 

Ramachandran settled in New Delhi in the 1960s where he was offered a regular stipend by the local Kumar Gallery. Living and working in the Indian capital, he became a prominent member of the arts faculty at the progressive Jamia Millia Islamia University, where Punjab-born artist Paramjit Singh and Rajeev Lochan, former director at the National Gallery of Modern Art, also worked. There, he mentored countless future artists, including New Delhi-born painter and photographer Manisha Gera Baswani. 

Constantly on the look out for new inspiration, over the next two decades Ramachandran’s practice evolved significantly. In the 1970s, travels across tribal communities in Rajasthan influenced his totem-like sculptural practice and inspired a visual obsession with lotus ponds. Chiefly known for his stark depictions of the human condition, Ramachandran's paintings became less dystopian in 1984 when he began his Yayati series (1984-86), stunningly colorful paintings that draw on a vast array of cultural and religious references. Despite exploring other mediums, Ramachandran always returned to drawing, creating more than 5,000 sketches throughout his life.  

Although eventually celebrated for featuring lyrical metaphors, it took years for Ramachandran's later works to be accepted by the art community. “My works were described as decorative, and people said my colors were gaudy and cheap. I was suddenly an outcast and was rarely invited for exhibitions,” Ramachandran said in a 2023 interview. And despite accusations of revivalism, in retrospect Ramachandran is credited with redefining Indian modernism by connecting his contemporary artworks to the nation’s 2,000-year artistic history and traditions.  

The most recent exhibition of Ramachandran was a retrospective of his sculptures, which was held in Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery in October 2023. In addition to his own art practice, Ramachandran was involved in the research for Kerala murals in his later years, which was marked by his detailed documentation Painted Abode of Gods: Mural Traditions of Kerala (2005). 

Ramachandran is survived by his wife, the Chinese-Indian artist Chameli (Tan Yuan) Ramachandran. 

Arphy Lee is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific. 

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