Jan and Abe Weisblat were expats who had a lifelong love affair with India - its people, its rhythms, its complexity, its colors, the food and the art. They first visited India in 1953 when Abe, an agricultural economist received a Ford Foundation fellowship to study in Bombay. Subsequently he was hired by the Foundation as its administrator before he moved on to the Council of Economic and Cultural Affairs, a small organization funded by John D. Rockefeller III. In the early years the Council provided travel fellowships to Asian artists. Abe sought out and identified many of these artists in the course of their travels. Amongst the awardees were Maqbool Fida Husain, Sayed Haider Raza, Krishen Khanna and Ram Kumar.
In works from this period, while the muted earth-tone color palette remains familiar, gone are the once recognizable characters; distinctive, emotive facial features; costume elements; and urban and landscape backdrops. His works from this period not only reflect his disillusionment but are also part of a larger commentary on the despair and desolation experienced in India due to the unrealized promises of a better life after Independence. The figures he depicts in these paintings are reminiscent of the forlorn characters he portrays in his novel, Ghar Bane Ghar Toote that was written after Partition. The novel narrates the grim tale of the homeless and dispossessed people. '….It is as if the muted characters of his novel, the refugees, leave the shelter of the written page and get transmuted into the shadowy squatters of his paintings….' (G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar: A Journey Within, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, p. 22). Usually garbed in suits and other European attire, Ram Kumar addressed the reality of metropolitan life at the time in India by quietly highlighting the struggle of the masses.
Reflecting a sense of vulnerability and isolation, Ram Kumar was depicting the urban dwellers who felt constrained by the city. 'Somewhat marionette-like and angularly stanced with half gestures that seem to clutch at something precious, the boldly but starkly portrayed people [are] related to one another because of the pervading quality of introspection, of a searching for meaning, purpose, release which is written large on their countenances.' (Richard Bartholomew, "Attitudes to the Social Condition: Notes on Ram Kumar," Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, 1981, p. 31). 'Though I wasn't directly involved with the rehabilitation of people who had come from Pakistan during Partition, I was involved in some way with the refugee settlements in Karol Bagh and that definitely affected me,” the artist recounts. (The Hindu, Friday Review, Delhi, 17 December 2010). Ram Kumar has asserted that his brief dalliance with the communist movement in France also left an impact deep within.
In the current painting, two figures and their background merge into geometric abstraction, the individual elements are demarcated by both color and spatial planes, revealing the influence of the artist’s training under André Lhote and Fernand Léger during his studies in Paris from 1942-59, wherein individual elements of the composition are analyzed, re-ordered from multiple perspectives and synthesized into a composite structure. Also inspired by Amedeo Modigliani, Ram Kumar used the tenets of Cubism and Expressionism to render his works. ‘Kumar’s early figural period presages his later work. He has claimed that in his cityscapes, he left behind the political in favor of self-reflection. […] Kumar may no longer engage in the heated debates of his youth, but his work continues to present a nuanced engagement with socio-political concerns.’ (S. Bean, Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence, Thames & Hudson, London, 2013, p. 92).
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