RAMESH GORJALA - A contemporary take on age-old faith

If Mahatma Gandhi said India’s soul lives in her villages, we would aver that India’s art was born in its villages. Consider Ramesh Gorjala. 36 year old youngster (born 1979), Ramesh was born into a family of weavers in Srikalahasti, close to Tirupati, in Andhra Pradesh. As the artist recounts, he was surrounded by weaves and weavers and that was all he knew. Inspired by his uncle BalajaiTheertham, an award- winning kalamkari artist and scientist, Ramesh learnt the art of working with the vegetable dyes and the bamboo pen that inspire the art’s name. Luckily for art lovers, his uncle prodded him to explore the world outside Srikalahasti and Ramesh joined his Bachelors in Fine Arts at the JNTU in Hyderabad.



WHAT IS - KALAMKARI

Kalamkari literally means, Kalam - pen &kari - work, i.e., art work done using a pen. Vegetable dyes are used to colour the designs applied on cloth. The art of painting using organic dyes on cloth was popular in several parts of India, but this style of Kalamkari flourished at Kalahasti and at Masulipatnam (also known as Machilipatnam).The Kalamkari tradition chiefly consists of scenes from Hindu mythology. Figures of deities with rich border embellishments were created for the temples. In Masulipatnam , the weavers were involved in the block printing art, while at Kalahasti, the Balojas took to this art.
Owing to Muslim rule in Golconda, the MasulipatnamKalamkari was influenced by Persian motifs & designs, widely adapted to suit their taste. Under British rule the designs as well as the end use of the fabric differed - for garments as well as furnishings. During this period floral designs were popular.
The Kalahasti tradition which developed in the temple region mostly concentrated on themes form Hindu mythology, epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata), images of Gods and heroes.Producing the KALAMKARI colors and drawing the art are interwoven processes.
A cotton fabric of a bigger size is selected than the intended size of the art. The fabric is bleached in a solution of sheep/buffalo dung and washed and rinsed in the clean water of a flowing river. The bleaching process may take upto 4 days depending on whiteness to be achieved for the fabric selected.

The fabric is soaked in a solution produced with milk and dried fruit (Gachakaya) powder of a local tree and dried in sun. Now the fabric is ready for drawing. A KALAMKAR draws a sketch of the art on the fabric using a pencil. Different kinds of colour solutions are produced by mixing water/paddy husk/vegetable derivatives and other locally available ingredients. The dyes are obtained by extracting colours from parts of plants - roots, leaves along with mineral salts of iron, tin, copper, alum, etc., which are used as mordants. The artists use a bamboo or date palm stick pointed at one end with a bundle of fine hair attached to this pointed end to serve as the brush or pen. After the application of each solution, with bamboo pen, the fabric is subjected to a relevant process to mature the applied solution into a color. Thus different solutions and suitable process are used to produce a given color. A labour intensive, time consuming process, a Kalamkari piece is a prized work of art.

Geetopadesam a Kalamkari artwork created by award winning artist and scientist Balaji Theertham

Exposed to a galaxy of paints and techniques beyond vegetable dyes, Ramesh began focusing on mythology, which many artists in India have done before, yet is always a source of inspiration and interpretation. For Ramesh, growing up as he did in Srikalahasti where most of the Kalamkari work detailed divine narratives, when asked to choose a focus during his education at JNTU, he turned to the myriadthemes that stem out of Indian mythology.
But what makes Ramesh’s work stand out is the intricate miniature figures within the outline of the larger figure, that themselves portray narratives.His subjects, mainly the gods, goddesses and mythical forms of the South Asian pantheon, include Hanuman, Vishnu and Buddha, and are all painted with great sensitivity and attention to detail. His imagery reflects some of the mythological tales of heroism and protection that he heard as a child and he tries to capture the epic characters of Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman, Vishnu and other deities through his art work.
He integrates subjects, mixing not only one figure, but multiple images all unified into a broader character. This is sometimes brought together by fragments of text, usually in the background of his surfaces, adding a new dimension to them.With the auspicious pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses incorporated into his work, Ramesh retells and renews the stories of the past but with his contemporary interpretation. The concepts of divine love, god and creation are explored in striking images that speak eloquently through the language of colour, modern mythology and symbolism.

No stranger to the mandatory struggles of an artist’s life, Ramesh recalls his family’s bewilderment and uncertainty at his moving away from the traditional weaving as a livelihood. But driven by his passion, he delved further,getting mentored by and training under artists such as LaxmanAeley, FawadTamkanath and Hanumanth Rao after his graduation in 2002.
After his first painting sold for a few thousand rupees to socialite AnjuPoddar, RameshGorjala now sits in the enviable position of having the art market lap up his works as fast as they are made. At major art galleries, a mixed media 24X24 inches work can go for upto USD2300. Gorjala’s work has won him various awards, including the 2000 Mahatma Gandhi Birth Centenary Memorial Award from the Victoria Technical Institute (V.T.I.), Chennai, and the 2002 State Award from the A.P. Crafts Council. His works are also in the collections of private collectors such as Dipika Jindal, RaseelGujral among others.
The artist has had many solo exhibitions and participated in various group shows in India and abroad. Some of his solo shows include 'Mythological Metaphor' at Chawla Art Gallery, New Delhi, in 2010; ‘Embracing Modernity’ at Mon Art Gallerie, Kolkata, in 2007; and earlier ones in Hyderabad and Bangalore. Group shows including his works have been held in Mumbai, New Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai, Bangalore and London.
But all this international travel, and monthly visits to Hyderabad for exhibitions, see him return to the tranquillity of Srikalahasti, seeking the quietude to translate his creativity on to canvas. Delving deep into mythological stories, Ramesh Gorjala makes them relevant to viewers by inscribing them with a modern idiom.