The Indian Artist Study: Ramkinkar Baij
In our new series, we present a study of the pioneers of Indian art, taking a look at their background, style, and a closer look at one of their works.
This week, we take a look at Ramkinkar Baij, a pioneer of modern art in India, and an avant-garde artist of his time. His works have inspired countless artists across the country, including some Artsome artists, as his works reflect his experimental nature and the desire to revolutionise the way the Indian art scene functioned.
Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980) was an Indian sculptor, painter and a key figure of Contextual Modernism in India. Born in West Bengal, he was born in an economically weak family. He attended Kala Bhavan at Santiniketan, which remains one of the foremost art schools of India. Kala Bhavan was the centre of the new Indian art movement, which saw a departure from traditional Indian art forms to more experimental and ‘modernist’ ones. He was under the guidance of Nandalal Bose, one of the pioneers of modern Indian art, and along with Benode Behari Mukherjee, created and popularised a new genre of art in the Indian art scene.
Ramkinkar Baij, Santhal Family
Ramkinkar Baij, Winter Morning Inside Hut
Ramkinkar Baij described himself as a non-conformist. His art was governed by intuition and he was notable for his use of the “abstract” in his paintings and sculptures. He was influenced by Cezanne and Picasso, with their styles of impressionism and cubism respectively forming his own unique style in modern Indian art. Key themes of his works include nature, life and human form.
A Study of Art
Raminkar Baij, Famine
Ramkinkar Baij, Famine, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
Baij has used tempera and ink on paper to depict an austere scene, using muted and earthy tones to depict each element. The focal point of the painting is the couple in the middle, with a woman sitting on her knees, with her husband’s prostrate body lying across her lap. There is a use of swift strokes of paint and ink to give some definition to the figures, adding contours and shadows in a way that they become a part of the background almost. There is some depth to it, with larger and focused figures in the foreground and smaller and vaguer images of trees and huts in the background, but the colours and ink meld together to create a scene of hopelessness and melancholia in the painting.
A key figure of Contextual Modernism, his works became synonymous with this new canon post an exhibition curated by R Siva Kumar titled Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism at the NGMA in 1997. Interestingly, his works resonated with the makings of a movement, one that aims to understand art in relation to its time and place, and to its cultural antecedents in way of its history and location. Ramkinkar Baij became a seminal figure of avant-garde art, creating a legacy of works that disrupted the modernist art scene of his time and rose to prominence by being one of the first ‘modern’ Indian sculptors.