'Like a dedicated ascetic, Ram Kumar had to undergo the final rite of purification by renouncing not only the human-body [in his artwork] which he had done earlier, but also its habitation on the earth, the city, and make the decisive leap into… nature itself...'
(N. Verma, ‘From Solitude to Salvation’, Ram Kumar: A Retrospective, New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery, 1994, p. 7)

Ram Kumar featured on Gallery Chemould catalogue, 1974
Image Courtesy: Hansen Family Archives

The work of modernist Ram Kumar can be broadly divided into three distinct periods, each of which is marked by a pivotal date. First, his figurative phase after studying in Paris under André Lhote and Fernand Léger, which began with his arrival in the city in 1950. Second, his departure from figuration to the cubist forms of his town and cityscapes, which emerged after his visit to Varanasi in the winter of 1960. Finally, the artist’s shift to a purer form of abstraction, one born from nature and the landscapes of his childhood home in Simla. This third period is widely considered to have begun in 1969 and it continued until the end of his celebrated career. The current lot, painted in this decisive year, is thus a significant work in the unfolding conclusion of Ram Kumar’s artistic style.

Speaking of the artist’s recourse to the natural world in this post-1969 period, Geeta Kapur notes:

‘these paintings are full of allusions to nature; nature as seen and felt in a tropical country. [Ram Kumar] paints with the colour of sky and earth; the sandy grain of the pigment suggests a river-bed or a sea-shore. The shapes, perhaps in consequence of these initial allusion[s], can be read as props in a scenario: a broken shack, a bit of fence, a bush, a beam of wood…’.
(G. Kapur, Exhibition Catalogue, Pundole Art Gallery, Bombay, 1976, unpaginated)

Whilst in some works after 1969, architectural elements do occasionally resurface and identifiable topographical features sometimes emerge, the period is generally marked by the suggestion rather than visible presence of tangible forms. Indeed, as Kapur asserts:

‘... these [props] as such should not be overstressed. It is the sensations in nature to which [Ram Kumar] is now most keenly attuned: the dazzlement of sunlight, the exhilaration of high breeze, the heat from a sun-scorched earth. It is these sensations which have to find, in the process of being translated into colour and form, a pictorial structure that both transmits and preserves their vibrancy.’

Enclosure featured in the Hansen residence, 29B Carter Road, Bombay
Image Courtesy: Hansen Family Archives

In Enclosure, the title confirms the prominent, dark shafts in the composition to be some form of barriered area in the landscape. Alone, however, the abstract amalgam of intersecting diagonal lines and planes are not immediately distinguishable entities. Indeed, as discussed, the physicality of the scene was not Ram Kumar's primary concern, but rather the ‘sensations in nature’ to which Kapur referenced. In this work, the spontaneous movement of Ram Kumar’s mark-making and the fragmented nature of his forms - in particular, the seemingly broken enclosure - bring to mind the blustering power of strong winds. In turn, the fractured shapes in Enclosure take on the appearance of windswept debris.

Sham Lal’s contemplation on another work by Ram Kumar, The Wind, feels very relevant here, in his assertion of the painting's metaphysical nature.

‘All we can do face to face with this picture is wonder whether what it shows is a treeless expanse swept by a gale or a storm-swept inner landscape of the mind. The answer does not really matter. The meaning of the work lies in the verve with which the artist brings the outer and inner realities together.’
(S. Lal, ‘Between Being and Nothingness,’ Ram Kumar, Vadehra Art Gallery, London, 2007, p. 11)

The physical elements of Enclosure are thus relatively inconsequential; rather, it is the tumultuous energy of the work which holds most significance. This vitality was something not found in Ram Kumar’s earlier work. Indeed, his ghostly depictions of Varanasi in the 1960s, in both the conspicuous absence of people and the tightly arranged compositions, are altogether marked by a quiet calmness. By contrast, the shifting and disassembled forms and unconstrained use of brush and palette knife in his later works create an undeniable momentum.

Ram Kumar’s adept brushwork is matched by his masterful use of colour. In the current lot, the artist balances planes of white, grey and brown, with the occasional subtle flash of blue and red. The largely sombre tones are cleverly imbued with a vital energy through the dynamic application of paint. Here, Ram Kumar’s accomplished painting style has created a composition which invites profound contemplation in the viewer. Enclosure can thus be seen to reveal Ram Kumar’s own achievement of inner illumination as well as a greater confidence in the artistic process itself than seen previously, again signalling the immense importance of 1969 in the development of the artist’s career.

Letter from Ram Kumar to Gunnar Hansen, 19th December 1973, regarding a Greetings Card the Hansen family had produced with an illustration of the present lot.