Ram Singh Urveti: A profile of an Artist

Ramsingh did not know about the artist hiding within. Long back once in his childhood he remembers drawing Hanuman and others Ram – Lila figures on the house walls with a special charcoal, but that’s all. He did not even do the ritual floor or wall paintings of nahdor and dhigna done customarily in festivals etc. Anyway where was the occasion to do that in a large family of eight brothers and sisters whose mother had passed away when the artist was only over a year old? Some how his father managed to raise all the eight by himself. Who then would have decorated the house, painted the walls to ward off the evil eye? In 1990, Ramsingh married Satrupa, and the very next year, he had to come to Bhopal in search of work. He contracted Jangarh and sought his help in finding a job.

They had been together in the child hood pranks, Ram Lila performances, getting firewood from the forest etc. But Jangarh who had been painting over walls in almost all the houses of the village caught the eye of the connoisseurs. They took him to Bhopal and he settled there for good. Eventually his work began to attract attention from far and wide and he became famous. In Bhopal, Ramsingh worked for the first month in the forest department as a daily wage labourer. After that he got a job in the National Museum of Man. Living in Jangarh’s house Ramsingh began helping him once in a way, with filling texture in Jangarh’s paintings. It was also on Jangarh’s insistence that he first worked on a canvas all by himself. One day, very pleased with a painting of his, Jangarh gifted him four stretched canvases and oil paint boxes. Ramsingh was delighted beyond words and sat down to a fresh canvas there and then. He dipped the brush in paint and did a stroke. Ramsingh had no experience of either the canvas or the oil paint. And the colour went flowing in many streams down the canvas. Ramsingh expected to be cross till he heard Jangarh proclaim, "may your name spread all over just as this colour on the canvas". Jangarh’s prophecy did come true and Ramsingh still has the canvas with him. Ramsingh’s is a known name in the art world today. He has received several awards for his work including those of south Central Cultural Zone, Nagpur, Kalidas Academy, Ujjain, Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi. In addition, he also got an honorable Mention by the Asia Pacific Culture Center for UNESCO, Japan. He has been exhibiting in India and abroad and has collections in various museums all over.

Though Ramsingh has never kept count of his paintings, he must have made more than a thousand that now lie in different parts of the world. Ramsingh feels the Gond painting essentially has a very peculiar relationship, with nature. He him self must not have painted a single one that does not have a tree or a bird or an animal. All the Gond artists, work on the main figures with elaborately filled textures like dots or rice strokes etc. Ramsingh’s paintings can be recognized by the particular texture he used as fills. He uses the motif of the little arrowheads for filling the figures in his painting. He had heard the elders talk so much of the arrows that were used by the wild animals.
The figures in Ramsingh’s painting are also painted in a very peculiar way. They can be called amoebic, in the sense that they seem to change shape constantly; a mountaintop may very beautifully lend itself to a human face. The painting entitled ‘the dream of the squirrel’ is exemplary in this context. Two squirrels have come to a river to drink water. They are scared all the time of being caught. As they drink water, they dream of turning into a fish, a tree, a bird, but along with it they also see the net cast in the waters for the fish, children throwing stones at the birds. In the end they decide it best to remain squirrels! In the painting, the tails of the squirrels turn upwards to become the fruit laden branches of the tree, on which perch the various birds. The space between the two is at the same time, the lake wherein the fishes swim as well as the trunk of the tree. It’s curious to note the ingenuity of the artist to weave the dream of the squirrels with their own bodies. And an appreciation of this particular work goes a long way in telling about the artist.

Source : IGRMS News, Volume 2 No. 1, January 2005


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