The Story of Indian Art #1: K G Subramanyan

One of India’s most renowned artists, K.G. Subramanyan, passed away on 29 June 2016 in his home in Vadodara. He was 92. Let’s meet the great man.

One of India’s most renowned artists, K.G. Subramanyan, passed away on 29 June 2016 in his home in Vadodara. He was 92. Let’s meet the great man.

Kalpathi Ganpathi Subramanyan (15 February 1924 – 29 June 2016)

K.G. Subramanyan was born in Kerala on 15 February 1924 and was one of the leading artists that were part of India’s post-Independence search for identity through art. He was best known for his terracotta murals, glass paintings, illustrated children’s books, and creations on canvas that drew upon myth, memory and tradition, and sculptures and drawings.

The maestro’s work has been exhibited in over fifty solo shows, including an extensive 2015-2016 exhibition by the Seagull Foundation for the Arts in collaboration with the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, and the Harrington Street Arts Centre, Kolkata. He also participated in the Sao Paolo and Tokyo biennales, and the first International Triennale that took place in India in 1968.

Because K.G. Subramanyan was extremely prolific and worked with so many media, it’s virtually impossible to list his most famous works. That said, there are two pieces of work that are considered a little more special than others. They are;

The King of the Dark Chamber

King of the Dark Chamber

This is an immense and grand terracotta mural that was made in 1963 for the Rabindralaya building in Lucknow to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Tagore. It measures a massive 24.7m in width and 2.7m in height and comprises around 13,000 individual tiles that were designed, glazed and fired en masse.

War of the Relics

War of the Relics

War of the Relics (Close-up)

Completed in 2012, this acrylic on canvas comprises 16 panels that measure 54 x 54in each and 9 x 36 ft overall. The piece draws on motifs culled from myth and contemporary culture to depict a complex pictograph of conflict that vibrates with the theatre and violence. While all cultures have signs, symbols and rituals to demonstrate the underlying unity of mankind, over time these devices lose their original meaning and become hollow relics of the past that create distance and give rise to clashes instead of peace. This transformation is shown using a range of characters and confrontations that capture ideological deadlocks that underpin numerous conflicts, from medieval crusades to the War on Terror.

In a career spanning nearly seven decades, K.G. Subramanyan played many roles, not the least as mentor to a whole generation of artists, critics, and writers. Furthermore, he was a pedagogue who questioned the boundaries between artist and artisan and was an inspiration to generations of students as a member of the Baroda M S Fine Arts Faculty.

K.G. Subramanyan at a glance

Most notable award: In 2012, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, The Padma Vibhushan is the second-highest civilian award of the Republic of India, preceded by Bharat Ratna.

Studied: At Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, in Shantiniketan between 1944 and 1948. His teachers included masters of Indian art like Nandlal Bose, Binode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij.

Taught: At the Faculty of Fine Arts in Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda; and at his alma mater, where he eventually became professor emeritus.

K.G. Subramanyan on K.G. Subramanyan:

‘I am an artist activist, not an activist artist’.

To read other editions of the series, click here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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