Thought Box

The Art of Ramkinkar Baij

The Art of Ramkinkar Baij

by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri September 10 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 27 mins, 11 secs

Modern Indian sculpture as we know it began with Ramkinkar Baij. Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri looks at the works and legacy of a pioneer.

‘He reflected the vibrancy of local life. Anything that moved around him moved him - women threshing paddy, big storms, tribal celebrations, marriages.’ - K.S. Radhakrishnan

It has been called the harbinger of modern Indian sculpture - the one work with which Indian sculpture could be said to have arrived. In many ways it epitomizes the essence behind K.S. Radhakrishnan’s assessment of the works of a pioneer in Indian art. The year was 1938 and the sculptor was only thirty-two years old. He had been at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, a mere ten years, and within that short span had managed, with this work, to not only ‘fuse the modern with traditional native sensibilities and local reality with a warmth of belonging’, but had also achieved the incredible feat of (indigenizing and personalizing) the modern by ‘marrying post-Rodinesque Western sculpture with pre-classical Indian’. The work: Santhal Family. The sculptor: Ramkinkar Baij.

Fascinating as Santhal Family is in the annals of Indian art, the journey of its creator from his humble origins in Bankura, West Bengal, is no less so.

Born in 1906 - though there are sources that mention 1904 and 1910 too - Ramkinkar was the first member of the family to break away from its hereditary profession. His father, Chandicharan Pramanik, was a barber and it is interesting that he recognized the potential his son demonstrated by showing his efforts around and also trying to sell them at the local market.

Despite his father’s encouragement, his family circumstances scarcely allowed for any artistic or intellectual pursuits. It was in the folk-art traditions of Bankura, home to traditional craftsmen and folk painters, that Ramkinkar found his earliest ‘school’. Though he never formally trained with anyone in these early days, watching local potters and idol makers at work - in particular one Ananda Pal, a well-known local artisan with whom he collaborated - inspired him to make toys and small figurines, his first attempts at sculpting. Illustrations in schoolbooks, calendar images, Kalighat pats and reproduction of paintings provided him with the models with which he trained himself, beginning with copying these before moving on to making variations of the same.

By the time Ramkinkar was barely fifteen, his work, he had also started working professionally, making drop curtains for the local theatre, touching up photographs for the local studio, had begun to be recognized. It was the non-cooperation movement that provided the next step in his artistic development. A local Congress leader noticed his talent at the National School where Ramkinkar was enrolled and which was the hub of the nationalist movement in Bankura circa 1921.

The posters and portraits of leaders that Ramkinkar made for political meetings caught the eye of Ramananda Chatterjee, whose magazines, Prabasi and The Modern Review, were doing yeoman’s service in popularizing and disseminating the works of national artists. Chatterjee, a friend of Rabindranath Tagore, was impressed enough by Ramkinkar’s work to find him a place at Santiniketan’s art school, Kala Bhavan. Ramkinkar would say about Chatterjee: “He was a calm and serious man… he changed the entire direction of my life.”

“After coming to Santiniketan I learned many things. I have seen so many things. I have learned to look at life. However, it wasn’t like learning from a teacher. Learning means to learn how to see - to be a lover. A good teacher aids a bit in this, of course. However, one has to train one’s hand oneself. I had painted a girl paying obeisance. My teacher came in and changed a line on the girl’s back. Such interference angers me. As soon as the teacher left, I erased the correction and put my line back. Later I showed it to Mastermoshai, Nandababu [Nandalal Bose]. He called the teacher and said, ‘Kinkar is paka bansh, he doesn’t need any tutoring.’ Schools don’t give birth to artists. Artists are like mushrooms - self-taught.” - Ramkinkar Baij

Ramkinkar was nineteen and had studied up to matric (though he did not complete the course) when he first came to Santiniketan in 1925. As K.S. Radhakrishnan has observed, though Ramkinkar was inclined towards seeking professional help, if he had his way, the artist would probably have opted for the Government Art College, Calcutta. This had a lot to do with his affinity for realist painting as dictated by the professional work he had already done, including painting signboards and drop curtains, which ‘led him to admire the work of art school-trained academic artists and to work in enamel and oil paint rather than with watercolour in the wash technique preferred by the Bengal School artists’. Be that as it may, Ramananda Chatterjee’s recommendation and the financial difficulties entailed in living in a city dictated his choice of Santiniketan.

Despite his lack of and his involvement in formal education, as well as his small-time origins, Ramkinkar had from his early years shown a wide variety of interests that included theatre, literature and learning English. Santiniketan provided him with the ideal soil for the flowering of the artist in him, both fuelling and satiating his intellectual, creative and cosmopolitan cravings. This was not surprising given the influences of a Renaissance Man like Rabindranth Tagore, a versatile teacher like Nanadalal Bose and the company of friends like Benodebehari Mukherjee.

Benodebehari had joined Kala Bhavan, in 1919, at the age of fifteen. Though his impaired vision had called a halt to his formal education, it did not in any way affect his attitude to the arts. He was determined to forge a path independent of the Bengal School to which his teachers at Santiniketan, barring Nandalal, who had by now begun to distance himself, belonged. Nature, and not mythology or history, would be his inspiration. With his creatively critical eye, Benodebihari would play an important role in shaping Ramkinkar’s development.

As has been reported, Nandalal was of the view that by the time Ramkinkar joined Kala Bhavan, he was already adept at whatever an institution could teach him. Benodebihari had the insight to realize that despite the basic skills and professional approach that Ramkinkar had, what he lacked was a distinctive artistic personality. This is what Santiniketan provided him with.

Even before Ramkinkar arrived in Santiniketan, it had gained a reputation as an art institution that enabled and encouraged an engagement with Western modernism. This was the result of Tagore’s endeavour to make literature and art transcend the parochial, and move towards the universal. Towards this end, Tagore had invited Stella Kramrisch to Santiniketan in 1922 for a series of forty-eight lectures on Western art. Kramrisch also brought an exhibition of Bauhaus artists to Calcutta. French artist Andre Karpeles also worked in Santiniketan intermittently, teaching students oil painting. There were other interactions that broadened the horizons of art at Santiniketan.

Ramkinkar would subsequently meet Kramrisch and discuss art with her. Sculpture classes began at Kala Bhavan in 1928 with the arrival of Viennese sculptor Liza von Pott who taught students like Ramkinkar the basics of modelling, mould-making and plaster-casting. Greatly influencing Ramkinkar’s development as sculptor was the visit of Marguerite Milward. A student and later assistant of Antoine Bourdelle, her lectures on modelling and on modern European sculpture introduced the students not only to new skills but also aspects of Western modernism.

Thus, the ground had already been laid for Ramkinkar to usher in modern Western art, an effort greatly facilitated by his mentor Nandalal Bose’s approach in underpinning his engagement with oriental art with a modernist tinge. With his efforts at making Indian art more sensitive to local environmental experience, based on a sense of place, as distinct from the historicist approach of the Bengal School, there is no denying Nandalal Bose’s influence on the subjects became part of Ramkinkar’s repertoire. As he himself admitted, ‘The subject matter of almost all his [Nandalal’s] paintings was simple. Ordinary people, common landscapes; his paintings convey a complete picture of the village. This simple theme attracts me very much. Ordinary people are also the subject matter of most of my paintings and sculptures, and this is largely due to Nandalal’s indirect influence.’

Apart from influencing his approach to art, masters like Tagore and Nandalal also played a seminal role in the all-round development of Ramkinkar’s world-view.

While enabling him to explore his own possibilities as an artist, Nandalal gave invaluable advice to acquaint him with reading about not just the art scene but also the world in general. He also advised him to take lessons in English. Giving him a book of poems by T.S. Eliot Tagore is reported to have told him, ‘It is not enough to paint and sculpt. Alongside you must read a lot.’ This led him to explore authors like Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Nandalal also drove his interest in theatre and his range of interests expanded from popular Bengali theatre to the new theatre of Rabindranath and Abanindranath as well as to international masters like Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.

Within a short time he managed to achieve an enviable technical refinement in his work, his influences changing from popular calendar art and academic oil painting in the pre-Santiniketan years, to the themes and techniques of Abanindranath and Nandalal. His works as a student of Kala Bhavan show a remarkable amalgamation of the styles of these two masters, demonstrating his effort at trying to master the whole range of styles employed by the nationalist painters. He did this without giving up on his preferred realist portraiture, which he used in the work he undertook to support his stay and education at Santiniketan.

But the most indelible influence on his growth as an artist at Santiniketan came from the place itself. Its simple life and rural ambience spoke to him. Like the masters before him, he too loved nature and that ensured that though he had initially intended to stay only for a few years, he ended up living a lifetime. As he said, ‘The nature and climate of this place are to my liking. It was even more beautiful then, and less inhabited. The rugged khoai was all around, and the heat fierce, and in its middle like a lonely, cool, unknown valley covered with trees stood the Santiniketan Ashram. Nandalal Bose was the teacher and we, the students. No big buildings yet. Not so many people, no such hustle. We painted, did sculptures, sometimes performed plays and sang songs. We were like a large happy joint family. I knew nothing other than painting, sculpting and to live holding on to Santiniketan then. Also now.’

Ramkinkar’s course in Kala Bhavan ended in 1929, interestingly enough coinciding with sculpture taking off as an academic discipline in Kala Bhavan. His work during this period was characterized by portraits, beginning with that of Benodebihari, followed by Syed Mujtaba Ali, Krishna Menon, Vasudevan, Ramananda Chatterjee and music maestro Alauddin Khan, and small sculptures based on daily life. Taking up portraiture revived his interest in realism and ultimately led to his evolution from someone absorbing the lessons of Nandalal and Abanindranath to an artist making his own intervention through sculpture. Without in any way refuting their approaches outright, he engaged in a dialogue with it by establishing frameworks that enabled a movement from nationalist painting to realist portrait sculpture while ‘effecting a kind of synthesis within his own sculptural practice’. This is evident in a series of intertwining male and female Mithuna figures from 1929-30, where the focus is on ‘the movement and rhythm of the human bodies and their interrelation or rhyming instead of the physiological integrity of the individual figures’, which gave the human body greater abstraction.

This engagement finds its apogee in two of his most celebrated outdoor sculptures, Santhal Family and Lamp Stand. The journey to these is an interesting one. He had, after completing his studentship, made his first large work – the relief of Kach Devayani based on Abanindranath fresco tile – on the outer walls of the schoolchildren’s hostel, Santoshalaya. He moved briefly to Delhi in 1933 as a teacher at the Modern School, which is where he made his next large relief sculpture, Saraswati. While the relief based on Kach Devayani owes its allegiance to the Bengal School, Saraswati, despite its more distinctive mood, is reminiscent of Ramkinkar having been Nandalal’s student.

The next set of sculptures on the walls of Rabindranath’s mud house, Shyamali, represented a clearer break in theme, style and vision. They not only radiated a new spirit of realism but were also the first life-size representations of Santhal figures - probably inspired as much by Nandalal Bose’s drawings of the life and people around Santiniketan as by Milward’s anthropological documentation of tribal men and women, including Santhals.

Next came Sujata (1936), Ramkinkar’s first free-standing sculpture in the open, inspired by the figure of noted art critic and historian Jaya Appaswamy, at the time a student in Kala Bhavan. What makes this sculpture, the first in which he used a mortar of cement and laterite pebbles, an innovation that enabled him to do large outdoor sculptures relatively cheaply, interesting are the additions Nandalal made to its ambience. As envisaged by Ramkinkar in 1935, it was an independent figure standing against a desolate landscape. Aware of the movement inherent in it - rising like a tree from the ground and moving up in a spiral to the waist before straightening to a straight face - Nandalal planted a eucalyptus tree next to it. This gave the initially isolated and self-contained image an environment. At the same time, Nandalal also saw a link between this figure and that of Rudrappa Hanji’s seated Buddha built just a little ahead. Nandalal suggested that Ramkinkar add a small figure to her head, thus turning it into the figure of Sujata walking with milk porridge towards a meditating Buddha.

As the sculptor himself admits: “Sujata… I didn’t give it this name. A statue of Buddha stood nearby. The girl of mine is seen to be moving towards that Buddha. Nandbabu named her Sujata. I had only sculpted my student’s figure. When Nandababu suggested adding the bowl, I really liked the idea. The moment I placed it on her head, the finishing touch had been given. Jaya became Sujata.” Somendranath Bandyopadhyay contends: “I feel in that sculpture, both (stillness and movement) have become one. Although we do see Sujata walking, her figure is one of complete steadiness. Despite the posture of rising from the earth in a spiral motion like a tree, which is apparently one of the motion, the figure’s resemblance to a tree in actuality is suggestive of stability. It might sound a little heavy, but it evokes the idea of Vriksha iva stabadha. The focus is steadfast. The one which is being focused upon, Buddha, is also steady. Had one not seen such an integration of destination and journey, it would have been hard to believe.”

In the words of the model, Jayaswamy Appa, “In a period when artists sought strength in belonging together Ramkinkar built up a style that was individualistic and rooted in his own personality. His work has tremendous energy and love of movement, his figures and forms are dynamic and earthy, it is typical of Ramkinkar that many of his works are out of doors, they belong to the wind and the soil and are part of the rugged beauty of nature.”

The relief based on Kach Devayani, the Shyamali wall sculptures and Sujata can be seen as a logical progression to what would establish Ramkinkar as a pioneer of modern Indian sculpture: Santhal Family (1938). The work had its origins in a smaller work in clay that Ramkinkar had done in the early 1930s and then abandoned in his studio when he moved to Delhi in 1932 as a teacher at Modern School. Nandalal - who used a similar motif for his 1934 painting Way to Bolpur - salvaged the clay figurine and gave it to Ramkinkar after his return.

The familiarity with and knowledge of Santhal bodies that he demonstrated in the Shyamali reliefs attain an iconic representation in this larger-than-life monumental work. The scale here serves the purpose of conveying that man is on an equal footing with nature, neither dominating nature nor being dwarfed by it. As K.S. Radhakrishnan says, “Elemental man was paramount in Ramkinkar’s vision of the world.’ When it was yet a work-in-progress, a Santhal asked Ramkinkar what he was making. On being told that he was trying to make a majhi (a Santhal) like him, the man retorted, ‘Yes, the title maybe majhi, but it has become a deity.”

Needless to say, this work remained close to his heart. Ramkinkar recalls that when he was deeply engrossed in it, Nandalal appeared and sat down beside him. “Without looking at me even once, he softly said, ‘A river is a flowing stream. In some places, an eddy collects some hay and straw and gets stuck. It keeps circling endlessly.’ Now he looked straight at me and said, ‘You have got stuck too. When will your work finish? Will you remain like this forever, separated from life at Kala Bhavan?’”

Ramkinkar admits, “These people took a lot of my time. I didn’t give so much time to any other work. I could see the entire sculpture in my mind. I got deeply involved with the work. It intoxicated me. Tell me, how could I move away from it? I really got stuck. I entered it like Abhimanyu; there was no way out. Iron, pebbles, cement, chisel, hammer - all of them had besieged me. Abhimanyu had caved in. Mastermoshai’s words brought me back to my senses.”  

Commenting on the sculpture, Somendranath Bandyopadhyay says, “Even though this is a moving image, the movement is distinctive. It depicts tired feet, trudging along. Burdened with load on the head and shoulders, the sculpture appears to be symbolic of the weight of a poverty-stricken life. The feet bite the earth in order to move on. And the work involves a lot of feet, including those of the four-legged creature.”

In the words of K.G. Subramanyan, “The sensuous elegance of the Santhal tribals and their infective gaiety and good nature impressed him greatly, as also people and the things in the ashram environment. But wherever lay the visual stimulus his intentions in painting went beyond making an aesthetic or emotional document. Thus, they were different from his watercolours. In each painting he certainly started with a personal experience, often emotionally loaded, but he fed and nurtured it, day after day, with other experiences to build it into an independent entity. Each day he completed a painting, but each day he rubbed it down. The reason he gave it for this was typical; the work, lively as it seemed to us, was ‘too sentimental’ or ‘too pretty’ or ‘too factual’”.

Analysing the reason for the recurrence of Santhals in his work, the artist says, “Most of my sculptures have actually been inspired by marketplaces and fields. I love work. I like those who are engaged in work. I love such people. That’s the reason behind the frequent occurrence of Santhals in my work, whether in painting or sculpture. They have become my models. They are so hardworking, and that’s why they are so healthy. The reason they draw me is because of their lives - their life-force and rhythm. Their movement and speech carry such a tempo. They don’t have the conflicts and ugliness of our lives. The Santhals toil so hard the entire day - man and woman together, their son lies peacefully beneath a tree or below a bamboo bush. They dig the soil, lift it, what stamina, sweltering in the sun, getting drenched in the rain. Even during winter, they perspire intensely. See how they return home after a hard day’s work - singing songs, playing the flute, joining their feet in togetherness. Their steps aren’t like your military men, matching their feet in unison. Not learned by force. Since childhood, it comes naturally to them. How they walk, as if they were flying. Have you seen how the women walk - as if they were stepping ahead like peacocks?”

Interestingly, his last monumental outdoor sculpture, also involving Santhals, replaces the joyous movement he so lovingly describes above, with a movement of a different kind. Mill-Call, made in 1956, shows a couple of Santhals running on their way to work, with a child following behind. Though the trademark Ramkinkar movement is very much present and in the words of Naman Ahuja, “It captures the vivacity of Santhal women as they go on their way to work. A gambolling boy follows, the wind caught in the woman’s cloth held over her head give the sculpture its finishing exuberance, it offers a stark contrast to the musicality that otherwise informs their movement. Here, the Santhals are responding to the call of commercialization, their movements dictated to ‘money and clock time’ that they are now part of”.  

Hailed as the first abstract sculpture in Indian art, Lamp Stand (1940) is another outdoor sculpture that forms the cornerstone of Ramkinkar’s reputation as a pioneering sculptor. It was also his first smooth-surfaced work - the difference in treatment accounted for as much by the theme as possible due to the involvement of his students in the project. Whenever his students were involved in his work, the surfaces tended to be smoother. His students found it difficult and time-consuming to work with mortar, which called for a great deal of patience, and so resorted to smoothing the surface. Given the inordinate length of time Santhal Family had taken, Ramkinkar too was willing to experiment with a different approach and Lamp Stand was finished in a few days’ time.

Though Ramkinkar started concentrating on sculpture after completing his student years at Kala Bhavan, his paintings and other graphic explorations contain the seed of what he attempted to put forward through his sculptures. His paintings and portraits move parallely to his experiments in sculpting and critics have pointed to these mediums feeding off and nurturing each other. As he said, “What I see with my eyes in the world’s gardens in the light of day, I represent in my paintings. What I touch and feel in its darkness, I embody in my sculpture.”

Even in the earliest of these done in the early 1930s, works like Village Scene and Mountain Road, he demonstrates his freedom from the legacy of the Bengal School, though there’s the unmistakable influence of Benodebehari’s paintings. Soon however, with paintings like A Standing Woman, Bullock Cart and Santhal Couple – larger, figurative and brighter in mood – he developed a style of his own, marked by a change in medium from opaque watercolour to oil paint. With oil paint becoming his preferred medium from 1936 onwards, he embarked on a new phase of artistic expression that continued till the end of his career, focusing on a triad of thematic explorations: (i) the representations of peasant and Santhal life (in an example of cross-nurturing between his paintings and sculptures, Lamp Stand, which according to Ramkinkar was a ‘fusion of a female figure and courting or flying birds’, grew out of this group of drawing), (ii) imagery from everyday life where the concerns were more formalistic and syntactic (which demonstrate a clearer imprint of Picasso’s post-cubist works from the early 1930s) and (iii) encounters with people through the genre of portraits, in which his focus was neither social nor linguistic.

Portraits make for another important medium of Ramkinkar’s works, one that he believed offered the artist great scope for creativity. Interestingly, unlike his paintings and sculptures, the subjects of his portraits were individuals he encountered, men and women from his social circles and not tribal peasants and the marginalized. Speaking about this medium, the artist says, “Portraits offers the greatest scope for creativity. It’s not about copying the anatomy of a face, but demonstrating a character. If you merely copy, you will see it isn’t a portrait any longer. It would be something very distant from the person. Have you seen the stuffed tigers showcased in museums? Something like that. A face has so many features. All of which are valuable from the perspective of character. First, one needs to identify those. Next, they must be forcefully delineated. Underlined, I mean. That’s what makes a portrait. Copying or emphasising in the wrong places - both are equally dangerous.”

K.G. Subramanyan says that Ramkinkar’s individualised portraits are all personal and unique. ‘They are not polished masks, most professional paint, nor are they just penetrating character studies. They turn each subject to the level of an icon, with an individual canon of its own. Swapnamoyee is a wide-eyed ‘Abhisarika’, Binodini an image of soft-perplexity - a female ‘Hamlet’”. Nilima Devi comes close to being a square-faced tribal goddess and Soma Joshi a rotund doll with a kind of unspoilt sensuousness.’

The portrait of sarod maestro Ustad Alauddin Khan was probably the first instance where he consciously moved away from mere resemblance. Made sometime in 1935 when the Ustad was on a visit to Santiniketan, the necessity of finishing it quickly, since the master had to leave, gave Ramkinkar a ‘method’ allowing him to break free of strictly following the physiognomy of the subject and interpret the personality instead. This was the process he followed in his other well-known portrait, that of Abanindranath. In Ramkinkar’s vision, Abanindranath ‘comes across as a wise old man whose patriarchal face has been ruffled by age but who has not lost the child-like sparkle within him’.

And, on the two portraits of Rabindranath Tagore that he made stand out in the way they bring out the subject, and in doing so form a triad of sorts, along with the ones on Alauddin Khan and Abanndranath, in his gallery of portraiture, the observations are thus. The first of this, The Poet, is as much symbolic as it is post-cubist. The form being insufficient to convey what Tagore signified, Ramkinkar inscribed five words taken from his songs onto the slabs that composed the head. In the words of the artist, “It’s formed from an impression. There’s no measurement in it. In the puja room, he (Rabindranath Tagore) used to give talks, sitting on Acharya’s seat. I used to go there every Wednesday. Would sit at the back and listen. That bust is formed out of memory of those sessions. The way I saw Gurudev at the temple, my observations, imaginations and feelings, all have come together. I would see many facets of his personality there. Bhakti - he used to be so humble. Then there was the power of his self-belief – ‘even if the entire world turns against me, I won’t budge’ - such confidence. Limitless Love - feeling sad for even a falling leaf. Then again, his resilience - his loved ones died - but no sorrow, no tears. Just imagine, with what force of spirit. I tried to capture that man, as I saw in the puja room, in my sculpture. I did that on roll paper. One eye is made of clay. Like that roll itself. Five words are written on roll paper - Infinity, beauty, estrangement, pain, death. It’s inscribed on the mould too. Every time one rotates it, one of the words come to view. The words are taken from the songs sung in the puja room.”

The second portrait was done in 1940, immediately after the death of C.F. Andrews, a long-time associate of Rabindranath. Tagore had agreed to sit for Ramkinkar provided he was not subject to measurements etc. He was at the time penning a memorial note on Andrews and the finished portrait captured this posture. No sooner was this done than Ramkinkar broke it and began working on a new one from memory, relying on what he felt instead of what he saw. The result, in the words of K.S. Radhakrishnan, “An image of the remarkably creative and optimistic man Ramkinkar admired, standing face to face towards the end of his life, with what he considered ‘a crisis in civilization’… a virile monolith marked by physical tautness and creative introspection, an image of pensiveness and intensity”.

Ramkinkar recalls, “Rabindranath Tagore was a little unwell at that time. His hair had been cropped short - he didn’t have the mane. He had to bend over the tablet to write. It reflected a special aspect of his personality and that is what I tried to capture - the serious Rabindranath. Not the sweet and pliable Kobiguru. See, very few people have recognised this other Rabindranath. All through his life, he stressed on many things, did such a lot of work, in Silaidaha, then here in Santiniketan, he begged until the end of his life, whoever paid attention to him? And how many people have done one such bone-breaking work in our country? You think the poet only dreams. We also see him only in our dreams. Look at the flesh-and-blood man, the real man.”

In what was probably the most difficult portrait for him to make, the artist adds: “Rabindranath was a formidable person. I have seen very few who did not become a little nervous before him. How many people came here harbouring all kinds of imputation about literature… but shrunk like earthworms before him. They couldn’t look him in the face. There was something in him. His eyes were formidable. But I had an advantage. He was writing something on Andrews… His mind was totally on Andrews and the writing. He seemed oblivious of my presence. That he was not giving a formal sitting was no small relief for me. I was saved. Otherwise, would it have been in my power to make a person like him sit and draw or sculpt from life? To work with composure under his scimitar-like gaze itself would have been difficult.”

A non-conformist, Ramkinkar defied all accepted rules that governed art, focusing on intuition, innovation and experimentation, that paved the way for a new generation of Indian sculptors. His art articulated the ‘glory of such simple things as the red earth, the flowering palash, the nursing mother and the Santhal youth’. At the core of his idea of art was a love for the world and a love for man. As he said, “Working people in motion attracted me a great deal. Santhals and other humble people are the people who work in our country. So they are my models. And those whom we call the toiling people, their simple heartedness, simplicity of life, mores, dance and music used to enthuse me a lot, and still do. They are content with so little, it is amazing. In the joy of that amazement, I paint and sculpt them. I seem to know them. They too seem to know me.”

His art was dictated by a fierce faith in man, which illuminates even the elements of despair that marked some of his later works. As Somendranath Bandopadhyay says, “If his friend and contemporary Benodebihari saw himself as lonely palm tree in the middle of the barren and parched khoai, Ramkinkar saw himself as a palash in full bloom: No leaves, bare branches, fully ablaze”.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.