By Arti Patel
Chicago: As a master miniature artist, Achleshwar (Ramu) Ramdev confidently turns a small piece of yellowish paper around on his desk, stroking it with a paintbrush here and there, the vibrant colors in his depiction of Dhola Maru slowly, but surely come to life.
A few feet away, curious visitors at the Alsdorf Galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago focus magnifying glasses on other finished paintings of Ramdev.
They are dismayed to see that the closer they look at the painting, the more details they see.
It was for this exquisite Indian traditional painting form that Ramdev traveled from his hometown Jaipur, India, to Chicago. As an artist-in-residence at the Art Institute, Ramdev spoke about traditional Indian painting and had various demonstrations and workshops from June 6-12.
“Surprisingly, the people in Chicago are very interested in my painting methods,” Ramdev said, “especially in the natural materials that I use.”
Indeed, Ramdev describes his art as pure Indian for a reason; not only are his themes Indian, but also his paints are made from natural minerals with hand.
“The purity of this art and the richness of this natural colors, are something unique to India,” Ramdev said, “which is why I cherish it.”
The art is not only a large part of Ramdev’s life, but is also attached to his soul.
“Before I start a new painting, I meditate,” Ramdev said, “then, I start to paint the theme that comes to my mind.”
Then, come the small details, painted with a single hair of a squirrel tail in the middle of a paintbrush, which Ramdev uses to make patterns on a dress, veins on tree leaves, even draws out the strands of hair — keeping in mind that the whole painting is on a letter sized paper. He even accents it with real gold.
“Each little detail affects the feeling, the atmosphere of the painting, not just the colors and the main objects,” Ramdev said.
That explains why an artist would spend weeks, even up to a few months, working on details invisible to the naked eye on a small painting.
“Both the conservation department at the Art Institute and Ramuji (Ramdev) have had so much to learn from each other in the process,” Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, curator of Indian art the Art Institute of Chicago, said.
Thus, Ramdev was able to see conservation at work, and the others were able to see Ramdev’s methods of painting.
“We both enjoyed visiting the conservation lab at the Art Institute,” Shyamu Ramdev, brother to Ramu Ramdev, said, “Ramu was very intrigued by the methods of preservation and making colors.” Shyamu, also a master miniature artist, continues to follow his family’s tradition of painting in Chicago.
His work is valued by not only people in India, but abroad as well. That feeling of appreciation is one of the things Ramdev is taking with him back to India. That is why Ramdev is putting considerable time and effort to keep this art alive.
“I have appealed to museums in India, that if they can restore and preserve old and ancient painting, why not preserve the artists themselves,”
Ramdev said, “for once the last artists who know this art are gone, India will have lost the source of a great, unique treasure.”
Part of the reason why traditional Indian painting is declining is because of the growing popularity of modern art, which not only earns big money, but
also takes less training than does traditional Indian painting.
“It takes a lot of time and hard work to learn to paint Indian miniatures, which is why young people are drawn away from it,” Ramdev said, “They want to find ways to make money fast. I spent almost a decade grinding minerals and making basic structures before I got good at it.”
Ramdev’s love for pure Indian art form has kept him patient in order to spend time on each little detail, and dedicated to continuing the painting tradition set by his father.
“The great pleasure found in working on a miniature for a long time is not found in doing modern art for fast money,” Ramdev said.
Among Ramdev’s efforts to preserve India’s talent was to help found and run Rangreet Institute of Indian Art, which teaches anyone interested in developing his or her creativity in Indian art.
“I strive to keep alive this dying art,” Ramdev said. I want to make sure that this art does not become one of the many unique Indian aspects of culture that gets buried in Western influence.”
Ramdev was born in Jaipur on May, 7 1966. He learned painting from his elder brother Govind, and from Bannuji.