R. B. Bhaskaran

Bhaskaran Directors Statement

R.B. Bhaskaran is by far one of the most respected and talented artists to participate in the Madras Art Movement of the 1960s. This distinguished and intellectual artist was among the first in South India to rebel against the concept of ‘Nativism’ propagated by K.C.S. Paniker, the idea that one must consciously evolve an Indian style by introducing Indian motifs and themes into one’s work. For Bhaskaran, this seemed a futile endeavour, one restrictive rather than enhancing for the artist. He believed strongly in one’s Indian-nesss being an instinctive by-product of one’s work. For Bhaskaran, to define what is exactly Indian in his art is to implicate him and his personal understanding of his life. For him, this artistic catalyst within him contextualises each and every mark of his brush as entirely Indian. His rebellious nature can also be seen in his skilful leaping from one subject matter to the next throughout his career and his wanting to revise those genres of Western art history that have impacted on the East so forcefully. One moment, his still-life paintings remark at the 17th century works of Diego Velasquez and their future alter egos – the Cubist portrayals of objects by Pablo Picasso and the colour/shape experiments of Paul Cézanne. The next moment, Bhaskaran attends to the Western tradition of family portraiture upheld by the masterly paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Bhaskaran deliberately overlooks this long tradition and finds inspiration in the staid, though symbolic, marriage photography displayed in most homes in India. Most well-known is Bhaskaran’s signature work, the beloved ‘cat’ series. Starting as a sketch of a wandering cat in his studio, this interest soon developed into an obsession with the creature. Now after three decades of painting the animal, the cat has become to many a metaphor for the artist himself: astute, intelligent, charming and unafraid, particularly of boundaries and limitations. A principal at the Government College of Arts & Crafts for five years, and before that a teacher for twenty-five years, Bhaskaran in his retirement was recently awarded the position of Chairman of the Lalit Kala Art Akademi, a cultural body for the whole of India. There is no artist more deserving.

Bhaskaran’s mixed media masterpiece, ‘Couple’ (2005), finds roots in his artistic fascination with the stodgy and often uncomfortable-looking marriage portraits that are so prevalent in houses all around India. These photographs to the artist appeared loaded with meanings and dramatic tensions – what the couple wants the photograph’s audience (and/or the photographer) to think of them versus what they think of each other; the new phenomenon of posing for a camera versus the traditional male-female power relationship; photography as a relatively new Western invention versus the Indian miniature portrait that dates back centuries. In these photographs, even the peripheral objects seem to join the symphony of tensions: the wife’s abundant jewellery and the ornate chair on which they sit being shows of wealth and posterity. In ‘Couple’, Bhaskaran plays with the ambiguity of the visual equation of ‘man and woman’. Describing the work, Bhaskaran says how the work ‘transcends caste, religion, background, class and other human categorisations’. ‘If I were to make the man a Buddhist all I would have to do is put an orange garment across his body but how much of a Buddhist does that make you putting an orange dress across the body?’ By adding paraphernalia to ‘man and woman’ we satisfy our human need to subjectify, assume and classify. ‘You add a cross to the woman and she is a Christian. Suddenly they are a mixed religion relationship. We make further assumptions still. I make her taller and the dynamic between the man and the woman changes again.’ In ‘Couple’ it seems implied that the female figure is a Westerner, shown with a voluptuous body and a dress. The male figure however looks like a modern Indian city-type because of his upright manner and tidy shirt and collar. The truth is Bhaskaran has made it hard to discern anything for certain. The painter meanwhile stays silent: ‘People ask me what message I intend to convey through my paintings. I cannot tell them anything… I feel that a painter’s job is merely to paint. He is not a priest to preach.’

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4 Responses to “R. B. Bhaskaran”

  1. R.B.B is the Don of Indian contemporary art…the best guru i’ve ever seen….a true creator…VP

  2. R.B.Bhaskaran is one of the best Indian artist and his strong character clearly reflects in his art. The lines and strokes in his works are so powerful that the works are strikingly beautiful.

  3. I am also one of his student from kumbakonam & chennai too When he was the Principle of Fine arts. He is such a jenuine person same like his painting. I Inspired a lot from his paintings.His strong lines & the using of very polite grey attracted me too much.Especially in cat series.We can talk about many such a great thing It’ll never get end same like his paintings.He is an Endless…

  4. i also agree with with you

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