Impressions of Nature

Review by Hemavathy Guha
October 01, 2018


Home and Beyond
Chameli Ramachandran
September 1 to October 9, 2018
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

Chameli Ramachandran’s ongoing show at Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi showcases around 90 paintings in Chinese ink and water colour, mainly of flowers, trees, shrubs and winter landscapes painted since 2015.

As we all know, she is the daughter of Professor Tan Yun Shan, a close associate of Rabindranath Tagore and received her basic and later higher education from Santhiniketan. As mentioned in the accompanying catalogue, her father inspired her to appreciate her cultural heritage, and moulded by Tagore’s literature and philosophy, Chameli has synthesised the essence of two ancient cultures that of India and China. Reminiscing about the Santiniketan of her days, she says, “Oneness with nature was the unique quality of life in Santiniketan. Since class rooms were few reserved for science subjects that needed laboratories etc. most of the classes were held under trees carefully selected and planted because Tagore wanted to recreate ancientTapovana kind of ‘Ashram’ in Santhiniketan. Thus, nature became part of our life and learning process and we experienced each season very intimately.”

Chameli married her fellow student and artist A. Ramachandran and moved to Delhi in 1967. Absorbed in marital responsibilities she could not pursue her own artistic practise till the 1990s. But she has no regrets as for her “living the life is also a form of art”.

Walking through the exhibition, it is evident that it is not just a study of nature, but she has really fathomed the structure, spirit and movement of plant life and painted them accordingly. Devoid of unwanted lines, erasing and minute details, but rather single brush stroke of a petal, bark or stem, these paintings bring out the essence of the flower, plant, tree or the snow laden views. With small brush strokes, the details like the veins in the leaves or the petals have been highlighted. She does make sketches of the flowers kept in a flower vase or so to get the right shape of the flowers.

About her decision to paint just flowers and trees and not figurative works like many artists from Santiniketan, she says: “I loved to see sunlight dancing on tree leaves in the morning or branches swaying madly in a storm. Even a drop of dew on a blade of grass stirred me. When children went abroad for higher studies and my duties at home became lighter I started my own work. When I took up the brush in my hand images of trees and plants that I love so much started flowing out quite naturally. The process is still on.”

Ella Datta says in her catalogue essay that the present show deals with three themes. First, there are the flowers and flowering shrubs from her yard in Delhi. The second presents the trees and shrubs she sees in Rochester and Hansville in the US and the third shows the snow laden views of Rochester.

She works mainly in Chinese ink and water colour. In the paintings with the flowers which bloom in a bunch in red colour, she has just painted it with a single stroke of the brush in various tones of the black and the centre with just a few lines to mark the pollen. The branches have been drawn in a darker shade. Her favourite flowers seem to be the Sthalapadma(Hibiscus mutabilis,a native to China and now commonly seen in India also)

This flower is in pink changing its colour from almost light white pink to dark pink from dawn to dusk. She has painted several of these flowers with petals curving inwards and also studied the changing tones of the flower much like the impressionists in a set of six.

Another favourite of hers is the velvety cockscombs. This plant has a lengthy stalk and the flower is in pink or mauve with petals that twist and curve inside out. It is not a very botanical study, but rather catching the spirit of the flower which is what artists do. As for the tiny leaves, she has used a contrasting grey and painted over the pink stalk. She has also studied and painted some leaves separately.

There are also many paintings of trees in the exhibition which have been mostly painted during her winter sojourns in the US. The brush carries light and dark washes of the Chinese ink and captures the direction and movement of the trunk and branches of the leafless trees. In some trees painted in 2017 she seems to have painted only one drooping side of it with several branches and tiny dry stems with a sway. While in some paintings of 2016, she has painted a huge trunk of the tree in detail with smaller trees in the background creating a composition. There are other paintings created in 2016 which have a cluster of trees like a forest. Some of the trees have a vibrancy while standing straight and resemble an anthropomorphic form. 
Speaking of her fascination for trees, she says, “Trees fascinated me right from my childhood. They are beautiful, some so majestic and yet so silent. In fact, if it were not the trees we would not be able to breath and live. They are the most essential part of our life.  May be my obsession with the trees make them somewhat anthropomorphic”!

In the snowscapes painted in Rochester, the vast expanse of snow field has been captured with tiny shoots of grass here and there. In some of the winter scenes, she has also painted coniferous trees sometimes in the distance and sometimes in the fore or middle ground.

While her paintings in India convey a zest for life with blooming flowers, her paintings of the west carry a sense of melancholy sans the flowering plants and leafless trees.