Ramachandran’s career as an artist and his oeuvre may be seen as a study in contrasts. While the grotesque imagery of works from his early period was received favorably (even lauded) by art critics, many patrons of Indian modern art would not appreciate them. The images and themes, according to them, were too political, highly morbid and displeasing to the eye to grace their living and office spaces. Not surprisingly, many early works would remain in the possession of Kumar Gallery (who then represented the artist), unsold for a long period of time.
Conversely, the works from his later period despite being snapped up by buyers and often mesmerizing viewers by their scale, opulence of colors and imagery have, nevertheless, faced the constant charge of being saturated with beauty and sensuality, devoid of political content.
An added point of contention within art circles in India has been the unabashed reference by the artist to Indian classical art traditions and the aesthetic iconography of other, largely non-Western art contexts. Narrowly assessed in such terms, the ‘traditional’ elements woven into yet reinterpreted in Ramachandran’s works are often treated as ‘anti-modern’, backward, and regressive pitted in antagonism and opposition to the modern, progressive strains in Indian contemporary art.
Author, art restorer, and Chairperson of Neemrana Hotels in India, Aman Nath addresses these criticisms in a tongue-in-cheek manner in this extract by underscoring the intricate integrative elements of Ramachandran’s visual grammar:
“Perhaps Ramachandran’s composite achievement is to incorporate in his work what are otherwise considered contrary traits much like Shiva, whose ardhanarishwara form brings opposites to a perfect equilibrium or who can incorporate the erotic as well as the ascetic... Again, like Shiva who can be a marginal and outcast roaming the cremation grounds, Ramachandran has stayed fairly aloof from the politics of Indian contemporary art. But this is not to suggest that Shiva/Ramachandran is not center-stage in the multitudinal pantheon of gods/artists. Who but Shiva could be posited as Destroyer and Regenerator in a life cycle considered cyclical rather than linear? Who else but Ramachandran the rebel who offered us flaccid and hacked bodies would be eminently suitable to bring the human body to conform to new standards of luscious beauty, even to lasciviousness?...
Importantly, Ramachandran does not set up personal hierarchies in which the simplicity or power of the tribal/primordial is connoted as inferior or superior to the perfection and reasoned equilibrium of the classical. On a larger plane, Ramachandran’s work is a rebuttal of the criteria imposed by the Western notion of art when it is extended to non-Western societies. Rather than take recourse to invectives or total reversals, Ramachandran has laboriously worked towards creating a language which diffuses these hypothetical barriers. As Jyotindra Jain points out ‘The art historian’s concerns for primitive art have been confined largely to discovering an affinity of the tribal and the modern’ and as pointed out by James Clifford, ‘the affinities are all on modernist terms’. Ramachandran avoids ‘this simplistic trap of non-existent polarity’ to override the ‘discovery’ aspect and go on to stir both the tribal and the modern so that they are first diluted together, then metamorphosed.
What we hope to get from Ramachandran is a progressive, neo-revivalist, cosmopolitan Indian work... work which is indigenous (traditional past, plus the uninhibited present expressionism); geographically integrated art (east, west, north, south and across our boundaries); or as earlier syntheses like the Gandhara art and Company School – to international evocations (Botticelli’s bodies and Douanier Rousseau’s naïve forests); and work which is stylistically unselfconscious – where connotations of the tribal as primitive/decorative are not weighed in competition against a contemporary art which is forever intellectually honed down to an avant garde minimalism – and then suggested as the only true savor/savior of today’s visual essence.
In this time/space shuttle, neither is the past passé nor unfit for emulation, continuity and development as the artist moves freely forward and backward in historical time…
In retrospect, what is perhaps significant since the Yayati of 1984 is that Ramachandran has run parallel races where options existed, thereby, being a victor because he did not pit the past against the present nor the Indian against the Western. Regarding the ‘socially relevant’, he has suppressed and drowned the monotonous diatribe of art historical concerns preferring to float on sheer beauty and a double-edged human satire.
I feel that his work does not seek transience, it is pitched for posterity”
(Extract from ‘The Puzzle of the Integrated Artist’, Text from catalog of exhibition at Art Today, New Delhi, 1998)