Eternal Landscapes

Eternal Landscapes
Ram Kumar & Paresh Maity

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.
(Psalm 19.1)

To describe Landscape as land as it is seen would be over simplifying the concept of landscape paintings; however, the fact is that it is a term that covers the depiction of mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, forests, sky and nature in all its elements arranged into a coherent composition. Landscape paintings have been in existence ever since the dawn of civilization. Every natural setting has its own precise mix of man animal terrain and abode. Cave painters focused their art on the animals that constituted their daily hunts. Chinese artists were probably the first painters who added another important aspect in their work and this is a search for personal enlightenment. My longing for the notes of a flute is answered in the murmurings of the Gorge wrote the Chinese poet painter Shenzou in 1500 AD.

Before we proceed further, we should pause for a moment over the word Landscape which has become so critical to theories concerning place, space and cultural representations of nature. For many cultural theorists the very idea of landscape implies a process of alienation from nature and is an integral element in the development of the modern aesthetic. The depiction of landscape in a painting is essentially a representation of space that radically extends the possibilities of an aesthetic experience. Landscapes have a generative power and presence which inspires the mind and soul of a painter. It is not faithfulness to the obvious that confers the sense of reality, it is the artist’s inner cognizance which gives life to empty forms. An image of a landscape will have eternal validity only if the artist’s observation can search out the infinite and thus transform the particular into the universal.A landscape is a cultural mediation between space and the human subject, it’s the use and representation of space that an artist uses for communication with the viewer. Nature is the inspiration for all landscapes. An artist gives his viewers a new understanding of nature which enables them to see it as they have never done before.

Contemporary landscapes are in most aspects quite different from what the eye sees; they are modified by the individual creative process applied by the artist, the visual image produced may be simplified, exaggerated, reorganized or abstracted to some degree in comparison to the actual landscape. Every landscape has a dominant characteristic, a certain mood and an ambience and the challenge for the painter is to capture this essence. Landscape painting is the exploration of the outer world by the creativity of the inner soul of the painter. It is in that a point of union of art and living. To give us nature as we see it is well deserving of praise; to give us nature such as we have never seen but has often wished to see it is better and deserving of higher praise and is the triumph and perfection of art.

This exhibition - Eternal Landscapes by Ram Kumar and Paresh Maity - brings together two diverse landscape painters. Ram Kumar from the pre-independence generation, one of the pioneers of the modern art movement in India, and Paresh Maity from the post-independence generation, a young turk of the contemporary art movement in India. This exhibition of paintings by Ram Kumar and Paresh Maity presents the viewer with the opportunity to be led into a new invigorating experience of landscapes. The timeless elemental power of nature is expressed by these works the dialogue created between these works of varying scale eliminates the nature of our relationship with the environment and our human scale within it. Both painters express a faith in the spiritual benefits to be gained from the contemplation of nature’s bounty.

Ram Kumar
Ram Kumar’s paintings are inspired by the natural environment in its many manifestations, wilderness, mountains, ravines, crevices, rifts, fissures, gorges, canyons, hillsides, forests, deserts, fields and rivers. Ram Kumar modifies them to a point of making them unrecognizable. His works cover a wide spectrum of possibilities often based on emotional response to a natural setting rather than a specific depiction of a place. Ram Kumar was born and grew up in Simla. Although he resides in Delhi, he still lives in Simla at times. His fascination with nature continues to overwhelm him the painter paints from within taping into an imagery created in his mind that suggests the vastness of nature.

Ram Kumar’s journey as a painter is an evolution from objective memory to subjective tension, from images which memorialize nature to abstraction in which nature has become a sum of surreal parts that almost missed becoming a cohesive whole. His works are charged with a seductive energy, the painterly gestures at once vehement, agitated and autonomous and yet the structure holds - there is a kind of a framework creating a sense of fixed and absolute space, the gestures at times becoming more forceful, threatening to shatter it. Ram Kumar’s abstractions are a precarious balance of abrupt explosions of uncontainable gestural energy and soothing stabilizing structure which seems to transcend the painterly marks that constitute it. His landscapes manage this doubleness with deceptive ease, this simultaneous sense of equilibrium and disequilibrium in which the landscapes seem a sum of disequilibrated parts that do not add up to a whole and organically equilibrated whole that is more than the sum of any of its details. Indeed the landscapes rise above them like a mirage of higher unity. Ram Kumar’s abstractions achieve this complex magic.

To locate the critical significance of Ram Kumar’s work and to understand what informs and motivates the artist., we need to look at some of the bruised landscapes, the browns, the greys and a streak of green that reveals an apprehension of something more disturbing – a threatened ecological disaster in the making. The brown hillsides standing as silent accusatory sentinels and representing a long gone fecundity. Whether through salination or over cropping, the woods and forests have disappeared and only the bare earth remains. These hills are hauntingly and strangely irrelevant to the implied activities they once inhabited so majestically. The artist reminds us that this degradation of a once fertile place is the inevitable result of human intervention, indifference and greed. Ram Kumar also paints grand vistas of rocks & cliffs and rivers that flow out of the earth with great power, and yet he can make silence visible as there is no room for sound, the work is flat and the sobriety of its colours are inimical to anything as important as a voice or a sigh or birdsong. He is not content to simply present a benign pictorial view; his purpose remains much deeper and more demanding for behind the seductive beauty there is an undeniable sense of fore brooding of destruction and loss in a once natural terrain. It is the radical particularity that ultimately makes Ram Kumar’s abstract works uncanny. Here nature bristles with a gestural intensity that breaks the architectural boundaries that enclose it suggesting that it is spontaneous rather than serene. Whether mimetic or abstract it is this undercurrent of abstract seemingly with arbitrary vividness – willful intensity – that is Ram Kumar’s basic subject matter.

Ram Kumar’s understanding and development of a visual language through abstraction encourages us to explore in our minds eye a landscape of transcendent physical beauty and creative potency. The artist’s process and evolution affirms the relevance of landscapes in contemporary art practice and leads us to a deeper understanding of nature and a powerful reminder of our own connection with the earth. Ram Kumar redefines geography taking his viewers into the stratosphere and then presents the earth as it would seem from there, throwing in for a good measure different aspects of nature all at once, almost asking the viewers to figure it out and deal with it.

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Paresh Maity
Throughout his life Paresh was never far from water; he sought out ponds, rivers, streams, oceans and marshes relishing their surface qualities and varied textures. He thrived on the physical and psychological “thirst – quenching that water played in his personal life” whether as a child catching frogs or as a teen fishing in the lakes and ponds that are in abundance in the rural hinterland of Bengal. Paresh was at one with the buoyancy, calm and life nurturing qualities of water. He confesses to be a romantic realist in love with plaintive things that have lasting quality and will live. Paresh says “I have tried not to be something I am not. No shock treatments, no political messages, my landscapes are not snapshots of nature’s randomness; they are meditations on nature’s harmonious perfection which I visualized in my mind’s eye and transferred to canvas.”

His rural upbringing enabled Paresh to understand the environment. Its fluidity, its transitional nature, that it was never static and it never repeated itself. By understanding atmospherics he reinforces his awareness of time based observation of nature, of changes that take place throughout the day and with the changing seasons, the weather, light, time and water which is never the same from one second to another, much less from one day to the next. Calm, turbulent, still water can take any colour from the sky or any colour at all it has dept and meditative qualities. Light has been the most important aspect of our life and plays a major role in the existence of mankind. We are governed by light and darkness, the sun and more importantly the light it sheds upon the earth, controls the human existence. Paresh’s understanding of these natural elements enables him to present nature as it has never been seen.

For Paresh the sun is the architect and the painter of his landscapes. The point where the horizon meets the sky is the abode of tomorrow. His ability to manipulate this space creates a timeless quality. Paresh’s depictions of nature are seldom near representations of the external world; rather they are expressions of the mind and heart where the viewers long to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. Paresh gives the viewers an experience beyond the measureable, beyond rational thought. The mind is affected by a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power. There is a deep sense of reverence for the grandeur and vastness of the universe. It is this sublimity which make these landscapes eternal.

Paresh reinvents the style of the classical masters. He takes his viewers beyond the seamless reality of life, time is stilled, a breath held and a moment committed to memory. The luminous pastoral depicts and unannounced encounters as if the viewer has chanced upon this clearing without plan or expectation The stillness and the distance nudge the viewer into contemplation more than engagement.

There is a meditative and mysterious quality to Paresh’s painting unencumbered by overwrought devices or theoretical intrusions. The experience of these works for the viewers is one of both visual delight and spiritual upliftment partly because of the colour range, tonality and the rich yet subtle textures. The surfaces, the glazes and the paint density are all controlled with great confidence and expertise to give the viewers multiple points of entry. His canvases are like luminous theatres of unconscious imagination but with contemplation, they seem more and more provocative and mysterious. The smoothness of the stroke, the light caught in the act of changing, a liminal light caught between one state and another. It is the light at the threshold, a passage, a door into one’s consciousness. These authoritative fully resolved paintings demonstrate superior painterly skills. The artist shows us a world of grand gestures, dark places swept with light and moves us between the painterly space and the realm of intuition. The dialogue created between works of varying scale illuminate the nature of our relationship with the environment and our human scale within it. These are landscapes from Eden when the world was new.

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Vickram Sethi