K.G. Subramanyan

K.G. Subramanyan
Painter, Sculptor and Muralist

SUBRAMANYANPainter, sculptor and muralist, K. G. Subramanyan was born in a village in north Kerala in 1924. While studying Economics at Presidency College, Madras, Subramanyan became involved in the freedom struggle. He was imprisoned and debarred from government colleges. The turning point of his life came when he joined Kala Bhavan at Visva Bharati in Santiniketan in 1944. He studied at Kala Bhavan till 1948.

The artist gave the human figure a new dimension. Drawing upon the rich resources of myth, memory and tradition, Subramanyan tempers romanticism with wit and eroticism. He has received the Kalidas Samman in 1981, the Padma Shri in 1975, D. Litt. (Honoris Causa) from the Rabindra Bharati University, Calcutta in 1992 and became a Fellow of Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi in 1993. Some of his early figurative works echoed Picasso’s style in which the figure and ground are set in an endless motion.

A theoretician and art historian, Subramanyan has written extensively on Indian art. His writings have formed a foundation for the study of contemporary Indian art. He has also written some delightful fables for children and illustrated them. He experimented with weaving and toy-making. He also dabbled in several mediums earlier used in Indian art. For example, the terracotta mural and glass painting found a new lease of life with his experiments. Subramanyan believes that all visual arts are primarily based on visual facts and our responses to them. K.G. Subramanyan is one of the few modern Indian artists who have explored the possibilities of painting from a different perspective.

Between 1951 and 1959, Subramanyan was a lecturer in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. During 1955 and 1956, he went to the Slade School of Art in London to study as a British Council research scholar. From 1959 to 1961, Subramanyan was deputy director (design) at All India Handloom Board in Bombay (now Mumbai). He continued to be a design consultant till 1966. He went back to Baroda as reader in painting between 1961 and 1965.

He challenged one of the most common and important artistic assumptions that governed the artistic practice in the post-war years. History was of prime importance to Subramanyan. He felt that it is something that an artist cannot dismiss, as it is necessary to develop significant frames for artistic application. An artist should know about the fountain head of the past, lest they end up landing in a house of mirrors in which bare imitation is unavoidable. Each medium which Subramanyan explores is a response to a particular sensibility strand.