(Rajesh Ram with designer Rohit Bal, at the former's show opening at the Palette Gallery, New Delhi)
‘I Wonder’ why I went to Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi today. I shouldn’t have gone there. I was enticed by a small video in the Facebook by Rajesh Ram, the artist who is currently exhibiting there. I thought the show looked good but had my own reservations about the works seen in the video therefore decided to pay a visit. Rajesh Ram, Krishna Murari, Rambali Chauhan and Saptarshi Narkar- somehow the names of these four artists come to my mind together and the reason must be their arrival in the art scene almost at the same time during those good old boom years (do you know by September this year the Bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers would celebrate its tenth anniversary making us remember painfully the collapse of our art market, which projected a brave face for three more years?), exploring art in their respective mediums and styles. Had the market been a bit kinder to them, they would have created better works during these ten years. I did say ‘better’ works because the works that I see in the Palette Gallery do not encourage me to say only good things about the artist and his creative bend. But that a little later. Before that I need to say something else.
(Rajesh Ram's works today in Palette Art Gallery)
I shouldn’t have gone to Palette Art Gallery today. If they had said that the visit was only by appointment I could have avoided the embarrassment. I reached the gallery during the lunch break thinking that I could have my lonely dialogue with the works but I was mistaken. The gallery was filled with people and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong building. A group of fashion world people absolutely unaware of my presence were talking to each other, biting into sandwiches, a couple of them smoking there at the sunny terrace, a couple of lanky and sleepy models lounging in sofas kept against the wall, in fact against Rajesh Ram’s watercolours and some of them checking out a wardrobe full of designer clothes. I could easily figure out the scenario; it was a fashion discussion in progress and rightfully in the right place as the gallery owners are well known fashion designers. But what put me off completely was the way Rajesh Ram’s works were shoved aside as piles of discarded objects. It was so unfortunate to see how works of art are treated in a gallery, especially those from a show which had opened just four nights back. ‘I Wonder’ is the title of the show. I still wonder why I was there to witness that complete indignity meted out to the works of art of a contemporary artist.
(Another view from Palette)
It is my boon or curse to be at the right place at the wrong time. Or do I reach in the wrong places at the right time? Or do I witness things in the wrong places in the wrong times? In whatever be the case, I am sure I am making another set of enemies for writing this. I do not have any problem in the gallery owners using their private premises for any purpose they think good. But they should have announced that the gallery is closed for the day or a particular number of hours. I check the gallery websites before I venture out to see a show. Palette website had not given me such a clue. I have this indelible feeling in my mind and also in my memory that I have witnessed something very very bad; almost a crime, a rape or a murder, which I was not able to stop or alter the course of events. The fact was that nobody even cared and they treated me as non-existent. I could click some photographs and none of them was even offended by my act. Forget all those. What worries me is the attitude of the art promoters towards art. If the gallerists had any respect for the artist and his works, this wouldn’t have happened. They would have either closed the gallery for a few hours or could have declared the gallery closed for the day. I am afraid they would now file a case against me for encroaching into their private property. But they are sweet people and I am sure they wouldn’t do that to an art critic.
(Display from the opening day)
Now coming to Rajesh Ram’s works in the show; the first response of mine is as simple as this, ‘Rajesh Ram could do better works’. The visual language that he uses in his watercolours is a done to death thing by most of the Orissa born artists, after the considerable success of Jagannath Panda in the art market. Even the theme seems to be something discarded by most of the artists who got success during the boom years: The theme of social displacement of people. Rajesh Ram repeatedly paints the crumbling buildings and the new ones coming up. The only work that engaged me in painterly terms is titled ‘Crocodile Tears’ and as it is natural to good works, is quickly taken by someone. I do not want to write out an artist like Rajesh Ram because he has got talent but the works are not done in the right earnest. The artist seems to be terribly lacking in visual thinking. The works stand between the stale photorealism and yet to be consolidated Indian version of neo-expressionism. I wonder why an artist like Rajesh Ram just couldn’t look beyond the issue of displacement and dispossession. Holding Walter Benjamin by ears the curator makes the show to be read as an ensemble of storytelling. In that case which image doesn’t have a story behind it? Should it be a story always? Can’t an image exist without a story? When the image has a story to tell without any external persuasion, the viewer should be able to read a story out of it. In Rajesh Ram’s case I am not able to read any story at all. May be I am a failed art critic, an anachronism therefore with highly negligible opinion, so forget me if not you forgive me.
(Crocodile Tears from Rajesh Ram)
Formally speaking, Rajesh Ram’s sculptures are good to look at but they are not fresh enough to be excited about. ‘Predominate’ is a work with bad taste. I do not know whether the artist has done it as a political critique for it has a human body, an elephant head with its trunk turning into a snake. Is it about the remover of hurdles becoming the hurdle of social progress itself? There is no clue in the curator’s note about it. But the sculpture does not look like having a subtle taste. I would have embraced it had other sculptures been with such coarseness for I like the raw visual expressions. But the other sculptures are that of a small boy in different acts. A few of them are realistic (Discipline, Hands Up, Messenger, Man in Action), some of them are imaginative (Hiding Yourself, Heart on Tree- it should have been trees on heart) and some are highly exaggerated. Thematically and formally one could see the required consistency an artist needs but it is also visible that they are done in one go; not in a process taking a long period. They seem to be subsidised versions of early Jitish Kallat sculptures like ‘Eruda’ and the smart alec baby series by Chintan Upadhyaya. I do not want to be negative about Rajesh Ram’s artistic efforts. He has done his best but what he needs to come out of is his desire to be in the big league. He has used the big leaguers’ visual language which they have toiled to get for themselves. Rajesh Ram should work on his language; this is not a demand for ‘originality’ but a desire for something closer to heart. Krishna Murari had slipped into a Bharti Kher mode at some point and it took him a long time to get out of it. Rajesh Ram seems to be sceptical about his own abilities. He should let himself loose completely; here he is holding himself back to fit in (the gang of the successful). Rajesh Ram should look at his reality and create his art. He has shown the potential in a few works like Discipline, Hiding Yourself and Man in Action. But the unity of thought is lacking in there. Dear artist, realise your existence and reality and speak in an unapologetic language; you will be alright. Your art will not be shoved aside to make room for a fashion trial.