K. G. Subramanyan

Born in 1924 in rural Kerala, K. G. Subramanyan played a pivotal role in shaping India’s artistic identity after Independence. Initially studying economics, his involvement in the freedom struggle led to his imprisonment and debarment from college. He then joined Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, which proved to be an enduring association. Graduating in 1948, he worked under such luminaries as Benode Behari Mukherjee, Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij. Subramanyan then taught at M. S. University, Baroda, and returned to his alma mater in Santiniketan as a professor in 1980.

Mani-da, as he was fondly called, seamlessly blended the elements of modernism with folk expression in his works that spanned paintings, murals, sculptures, prints, set designs and toys. His visual meditations contemplated human subjects and objects as distinct forms, characterized by vibrant colours and abstract shapes. Renowned for the sensuality in his imagery, reflective faces and nightly backdrops, his paintings reflected a cubist influence. Subramanyan skilfully blended romanticism with wit and eroticism, drawing inspiration from myth, memory and tradition. Beyond his visual artistry, his writings have laid a solid foundation for understanding the demands of art on the individual.

Spanning nearly seven decades, Subramanyan’s art was featured in over fifty solo exhibitions, receiving prestigious awards such as the Medallion of Honourable Mention (Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil) and the Lalit Kala Akademi’s National Award. In 2012, he received the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, for his outstanding contribution to the arts. He remained dedicated to teaching until his retirement in 1989, following which he was appointed as a professor emeritus at Visva-Bharati.

In the later stages of his life, Subramanyan lived with his daughter in Baroda, where he passed away in 2016 at the age of 92. His contributions have left an indelible mark on contemporary art, blending tradition with innovation.

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