KG Subramanyan was an arts critic, painter, sculptor, pedagogue, and muralist to name but a few hats he wore. It was a tragic moment for the art lovers around the world when he passed away last month on 29 June at the age of 92.
The eminent Indian artist was born in a village in north Kerala in 1924. During his long working life spanning nearly seventy years, his work was exhibited in over fifty solo shows, including an extensive 2015-2016 exhibition by the Seagull Foundation for the Arts in collaboration with the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, and the Harrington Street Arts Centre, Kolkata.
Durjoy Rahman, a Bangladeshi art enthusiast and collector, has fond and profound memories of Subramanyan.
“When I first met him he enlightened me with his simplicity and vast knowledge in the practice and movements of art.”
A full-fledged academic, Subramanyan wrote extensively on Indian art. His writings are generally considered the founding thoughts and theories shaping the understanding of contemporary Indian art. His multifaceted talent was also reflected in children’s literature. He wrote stories for children and, of course, illustrated them.
Durjoy had a chance to see the great man just a few months before his passing. “I met Subramanyan early February of this year in Santinikatan and we spent a long time discussing Indian art, its practice etc,” he said.
Subramanyan had begun his teaching career as a lecturer in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda between 1951 and 1959. In 1955 he went to the Slade School of Art in London to study as a British Council research scholar.
He spent 14 years teaching at Baroda as a professor of painting. From 1968 to 1974 he acted as the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. He also served as a visiting lecturer at many international universities. In 1980 Subramanyan moved back to Santiniketan and took up a professorship at the Kala Bhavan. Between 1987 and 1988 he lived at Oxford as Christensen Fellow in St Catherine's College. In 1989 he was appointed Professor Emeritus at the Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati.
When asked what attracts him most to Subramanyan's work, Durjoy said, “The use of mythology in his work attracts me.” Durjoy has a few of Subramanyan’s paintings in his collection. “I have a few of his works and his most signature styles are all expressed in them,” Durjoy said.
When asked if he has any plans to sell them at some point, Durjoy emphatically replies, “None of those are for sale.”