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South Asian Art - Meet The Artist R.B. Bhaskaran

Razvin Namdarian

R B Bhaskaran - a name that is representative of the immense talent pool of artists from ‘down South’. His works have an intrinsic simplicity in their composition which belies the amount of thought, planning and experimentation that has gone into each creation. Every artwork, even a drawing, resonates with his sheer creative genius. He is a master of textures which he himself admits to have been the result of ‘constant experimentation.’ In a recent retrospective exhibition, viewers were fortunate to see his artworks from 1965 through to 2010. bCA Galleries spoke to the senior artist about his journey in art:

Who were the early influences in your life?

Perhaps the pivotal influence on my becoming an artist was my uncle Namasivayam, who owned the Bharat Studios in Madras in the 1950s. Here from the age of 9 I would spend my vacations learning the very rudiments of art from the boys who would come into my uncle’s studio to wash the brushes and prepare the colours and palettes for the artists who would paint the film banners etc. Later I joined the Madras School of Art much to my uncle’s chagrin who had expected me to join his business. My parents too were not very pleased with my decision, my father was a British trained leather factory manager; we had grown up with Western discipline and education. They did not feel that art was a career that could sustain a family.

You are regarded as one of the first Indian contemporary artist who practiced print making. What aroused your interest in this medium?

My early experience in working on the promotional material for films at my uncle’s studio held me in good stead as I found that I had gained practical knowledge and techniques. I took to print making even though it is a rather painstaking process – one has to understand papers, acids, pressure on the machine ... I studied it from 1968 to 1977 and was selected by the British Council for a scholarship to study print making in the UK. In the 1970’s I introduced the Fine art degree in Print Making at the College of Arts and Crafts.
In fact it is this experience and mastery of print making that reflects in his other works as well, creating compositions that are finely balanced and take advantage of positive and negative spaces.

Tell us something about the art movement as you experienced it.

In the 1940’s and early 1950’s after independence, we were looking for new direction and moving away from ancient, oriental and European traditions. There was a lot of experimentation even by the teachers of art. There was little acceptance between the 1950’s and 1980’s. Even the press would protest by not covering the exhibitions as we were moving from understood subjects to something new, like Souza’s works. Today’s success is because of the hard work of all those artists. The NGMA established in 1954 was a source of support as well as the Lalit Kala Academy set up at the national and then state levels to promote arts and literature.

As chairman of the Lalit Kala Academy (2002-2007), what has been your contribution to promoting art?

It was my privilege that during my tenure the academy was celebrating 50 years. We decided to honour the pioneers of Indian art. 80 artists including Kishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, S H Raza, K G Subramaniam, Tyeb Mehta...were on the same dais and felicitated by the President of India with the first ever Lalit Kala Ratna Award.

Significantly your art is redolent with repeated motifs of cats, fish and couples, tell us about your muse.

The cat and fish represent the circle of life with one sustaining the other. The cat can also be termed as the artist’s muse or obsession, a restless individual by nature, sketching a cat is an act of creating a focus for me. My ‘cats’ are not copies of the real thing; they are delineated forms that have a unique attitude in the pose in which I render them. The wedding photo series are reflective of the typical pose in which couples photograph their weddings for posterity – studied and pseudo reflections of a social institution. I have worked on couples from different communities; in fact the Kathiawad couple is actually Mahatma Gandhi with his wife.

Viewing his works across the decades one can experience the genesis of the different series during his artistic career – Life cycle, Cats, Still Life to Marriage Photos. The colour palette initially was muted and mellow with subtle tones of brown, red and yellow. Now the colours he uses seem to have broken free in vibrant abandon – bright green, yellow, red and blue dominate. As he says, “a true artist is one who searches for himself. The mind travels collecting different impressions along the way, all of this reflects in art. Art is a journey; no artist can say that now I have achieved the best, you run as long as you can...”

~ Razvin Namdarian

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