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Emotional transformation...

“Some time ten years ago during my frequent visits to the Ramana Ashram I came across English translations of some of the Tamil saint poets like Manikkavachakar, Sundaramoorthy Nayanar and others and what moved me was the passionate outpourings of devotion. It rang a bell somewhere when I came across other people of a later period like Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Kannada poetess Akkamahadevi, Lal Ded, also known as Lallal and Laallae, a poetess of Kashmir who was venerated by both Hindus and Muslims; she called the Godhead as Shiva. Their ideas were very similar to the Advaidic outpourings of South Indian saints. I felt that, though separated by geography, time, culture and history, their experiences of truth or realization must have been very similar. They might have used different kinds of metaphors and examples when they speak, still one could understand that they were saying the same thing. Their humility too moved me very much”, began Ramesh Vedanbatla, a senior Vizag based artist.

Deeply touched by their philosophy, Ramesh began to wonder how one could translate such emotions into a language of painting. A musician can express intense emotion even through abstract singing of a Raga. But Ramesh had no precedents in contemporary art for this. “How do I convert this emotional language into one of paint, lines and textures which reflect the same kind of passion”. He is endeavouring to find apt images; “it is easy to depict a figure and write a few lines of poetry. The issue here is that of transforming this and how one does it when there are no examples. I start sometimes with a concrete human figure or even write a few lines of text on the canvas and as the work progresses I realise it is moving slowly towards abstraction, may be semi abstraction; it might perhaps lead me to full abstraction”. His works on Karaikkal Ammaiyar and Akkamahadevi belong to this genre, wherein it might refer to the impermanence of human body. The metaphysical and metaphorical imagery of his works would take one back to the devotional and impassioned poetry which he refers to.

Earlier he used to superimpose an image of a sculpture of a saint/poet on the drawing along with a text of their poetry. From there the journey has been towards developing a painterly feeling which would reflect the emotional intensity of the poets. “I still start with a figure but something else enters as it evolves; I still have to find ways and means to handle paint; I print, erase, superimpose etc. till the moment of realization arrives and I’d say ‘that is it!’. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

‘The Man and the Mountain’ with a portrait of Ramana Maharshi and the Arunachala when started was very simple and stark. After four months of work it has become so complex with a web of lines, colours and textures; he was very excited about where it was leading; “ it was becoming pregnant with emotions which are mine”. There have been instances when he knew exactly what he wanted in the end and would get it. “But I realise there is no fun in it; a bit of uncertainty about where it is leading you and though not quite sure what you are searching for, when you arrive at a “that’s it!” point, it is actually a great feeling of satisfaction.

Ramesh makes it a point to be at the Ashram on his birthday every year, though he may visit at other times too. “I am grateful for having got the opportunities to visit the Ramana Ashram; it has acted as a catalyst in transforming my life. Different people get called to different places which transform their lives, as it happened to me at the Ashram. My going there led me to question certain given certitudes and norms; it led me to discard so many unwanted baggage I had, perhaps uncomplicate my own life. I started looking at life in a different way, how we are all connected with each other”.

Earlier Ramesh used to paint the sea and the fishermen and their life, living as he has been in the coastal city of Vishakapatnam; handling of the paint was different, it was heavy impasto. At some point he felt he had reached a dead end and there was nothing more he could do; he stopped painting oils for a year or two. But he began painting very abstract, totally non-representative small dry pastels.

Then the visit to Ramana Ashram happened. There perhaps was more of a new way of thinking and contemplation. “Then I came out with a new body of work which resulted in the show titled “A thousand and one desires” where I used a lot of myths, imageries from our Puranas, perhaps hinting at areas of existence which I was beginning to understand; for example there was a self portrait called “Ashtavakra”. The main theme of this successful show, was greed which motivates people in certain ways. For instance the painting with the same title as the exhibition, shows a human form filled with eyes like Lord Indra surrounded by images of electronic items and flowers. Says Ramesh, “often we hanker after possessing material items but once we get them we begin to wonder what was all this about”.

Ramesh likes doing large paintings in general but now he is doing some medium sized ones too. During the first decade of 2000 he held a show of water colours; another of oil was with the images of Bhagawan Ramana called “Painted Hymns”; he keeps coming back now and then to Bhagawan’s portraits which often form a kind of ephemeral background on which emerge other forms leading to abstract ideas. Generally his paintings, whatever might be the size, are covered with millions of dots and fine curving, twisting lines and squiggles, like what one might see on a scientific slide under the microscope. But, difficult as it may be to believe, these are all actually drawn by hand with fine brush patiently and painstakingly. The multitudes of flowers, such as in ‘Ashtavakra’, have almost disappeared, if at all in a very tiny thin forms nearly lost among the dots and lines.

His recent water colour still lives reveal new dimensions of energy, sometimes even a sense of emptiness, but catalyse into different directions and depths of thought.

In the 30 odd years in the Dept of Fine Arts in the College of Arts and Commerce, Andhra University Ramesh has held responsible positions like Head of Department, Chairman of Board of Studies, Reader etc. He retired a year ago.

Bani Beyond Borders II...