Chameli Ramachandran carries a piece of Santiniketan wherever she goes. Rabindranath Tagore died in 1941, the year after she was born, but even after his death, much of Rabindranath’s philosophy, his celebration of life in nature, his experiments with education permeated the Santiniketan ambience. Chameli grew up in this very special environment and imbibed much of its distinctive essence. And so her joyous, sometimes even ecstatic, response to nature, surfaces again and again in her work. It is nature which offers her a release from the mundane.
In her latest show, ‘Enchanted Garden,’ Chameli, once again paints leaves, flowers, trees, familiar images in her oeuvre. Often, she observes them in her own garden. Even more interestingly, she paints from memory and communicates a liberating experience. This show gives us a glimpse of the vegetal world that that has gripped her imagination over the last three years. The studies beckon the viewer to enter a magical space.
Chameli has been painting plant life for decades now with great sensitivity. In these latest studies, however, there are new elements of deeper empathy and identification with the vegetal world that she is painting. The graceful sway of the palm fronds, the elegant lilt in the movement of the kash phul plumes, the ethereal appearance of the spider lilies, the wondrous, globular onion blossoms express a unique vision of the artist in which she is not a mere observer, but is deeply immersed in the essence of their being.
Much of the special sensibility in her paintings is linked to her mastery over her medium and her calligraphic brushwork. Painting is a meditative act for her. When she paints with her brush loaded with ink, her senses, indeed her whole being, is focused on the tip of her brush, saturated with ink, gliding across the surface of the paper. In calligraphy, there is no scope for going back. With this small range of ink and colours, Chameli has invested her images with exquisite poetry.
The apparent simplicity of the images is deceptive. A close look will reveal the complexity of the compositions. For instance, the criss-crossing of the dancing palm leaves create a fascinating tracery of lines. Even more absorbing is the wooded landscape at Rochester, USA, which she saw with a feeling of wonder from the window of her friend’s home: tall, slim tree trunks stood in serried rank in front of a leafy growth of shrubs. Chameli’s view of this scene has emerged as a rich tapestry of vegetation.
What is even more haunting is the fascinating variety of textures that Chameli has created with a fairly thin medium as ink. Take, for instance, the feathery feel of the kash phul that she has painted with hundreds of light strokes of brush and ink.
For Chameli, the onion flowerer evokes childhood memories of her mother’s vegetable garden in Santiniketan. No wonder, that she has invested it with such intensity. Even more evocative are her paintings of the canopy of tall trees. Chameli says that she remembered her childhood years of schooling at Patha Bhavana in Santiniketan. They had open air classes under tall trees. She remembers vividly looking up at the sky during lessons and seeing the sky and the sun dappling the leaves. She has captured those impressions in a series of paintings of cinematic vividness. In ‘Enchanted Garden’, Chameli has achieved a new level of engagement with her images of nature.