Ongoing Retrospective Of Rumale Chennabasaviah At NGMA, Mumbai, Celebrates The Artist’s Relationship With Colours

Ongoing Retrospective Of Rumale Chennabasaviah At NGMA, Mumbai, Celebrates The Artist’s Relationship With Colours

Rumale, also known as Vincent Van Gogh, was a self-taught artist before he plunged himself into the freedom struggle of India

Shruti PanditUpdated: Wednesday, April 03, 2024, 02:02 PM IST
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Rumale Chennabasaviaha |

The National Gallery of Modern Art, Kalaghoda, Mumbai (NGMA) is
displaying the works of Rumale Chennabasaviah for the first time in Mumbai. Varna Mythri, the retrospective, gains its name from one of the works of Rumale which depicts a colourful corner near Vidhan Saudh at Bengaluru.

Rumale, also known as Vincent Van Gogh, was by and large a self-taught artist who received training at Kalamandir, Bengaluru for a short time before he plunged himself into the freedom struggle of India. He spent years travelling with Mahatma Gandhi and working with Vallabhbhai Patel till the country was declared independent. He was an active member of the youth wing — Seva Dal — in the pre-independence era. After Independence, he was active for a few years in establishing the state of Mysore/Karnataka and was a member of the Legislative Council for a few years.

“Finally, he told the leaders that he wanted to go back to his first love — art,” said Sanjay Kabe, son of Madhav Kabe, Rumale’s best friend for years with whom he stayed during his lifetime. “We were his family. He was my godfather, you can say. I have seen the entire process — his thoughts, his dedication, his hard work, his choice of subjects… everything,”
Sanjay added.

Gulmohar, Cubbon Park

Gulmohar, Cubbon Park |

Rumale was 52-years-old when he finally dedicated himself only to his art. Mahatma Gandhi asked him why he didn’t do both — work for the nation and paint. Rumale replied that he could do only one thing passionately at one time. He had invested enough years for the nation and now he wanted to do what he loved — paint. “He was always single-minded and focused. He never did two things at the same time. I would attribute it to his spiritual mindset,” informed Sanjay.

1934 Rumale Chennabasaviah with Mahatma Gandhi

1934 Rumale Chennabasaviah with Mahatma Gandhi |

Rumale was a follower of Tapasvi Maharaj in his initial days and was the first one to be initiated in meditation by Shivabala Yogi. “He found his bhakti, passion for art in his environment in Bengaluru, where he spent his life and started his Art House, the first private gallery in Bengaluru to exhibit his own works in 1973.”

Palash in Bloom

Palash in Bloom |

“I have to add something here,” said Shruti Das, the co-curator of the retrospective at the NGMA, Mumbai. “The Rumale Art House is like a temple. The energy was fantastic. I realized that when I visited his gallery. There is one room that’s  like the sanctum of a temple… it was from that room that all energy was emanated.”

For a freedom fighter, Rumale went against his principles when it came to choosing his art material. He always favoured Winson and Newton colours over local brands — be it watercolours or oil paints. “He wanted his paintings to remain for more than 400 years. He fought against the British, but according to him Winson and Newton were the best colours with natural pigments that gave life to his paintings. He lived an ascetic life otherwise, slept on the floor, and wore khadi. But, for his painting he always wanted the best and, therefore, he chose the British colours, paints, paper and canvases.

Tree in bloom, Rama mandira

Tree in bloom, Rama mandira |

Rumale did work with oil on canvas, but his favourite and preferred medium remained watercolours. “He trained in the British watercolour system of art,” shared Sanjay. “For him, art was not a hobby… the passion he had for art was unmatched and wanted to take on the world. He painted nature. He often told me — ‘Most great masters painted nature in medium dimensions, but I want to prove that Indians can do better and bigger dimensions in water colours.’ That was his vision and ambition.”
Watercolours are a more difficult medium than oil as there is no scope to correct once on paper. “He always mixed colours on paper, never on palate. That required a lot of confidence and risk taking, Sanjay divulged a secret of Rumale’s technique. “Watercolours can’t be corrected on paper. Like a game of chess where you know 10000 moves in advance.”
Rumale was a visionary, but shy. He knew he required a dignified space to display his art so in 1973, he opened his Art House. But never agreed to go out of Bengaluru to exhibit his work. “In 1978, when Mario Miranda visited him, he offered to take his work to Mumbai and Goa, but he declined.”
Many appreciated his work Raja Ramanna, chairman of BARC, was one of them. “His favourite was the painting of my father which Rumaleji had done — Kabe in meditation,” said Sanjay.

Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem |

Shruti Das and her colleagues at NGMA have created a mini Rumale’s Art House at the Mumbai’s gallery. They have not only displayed his works, but have also displayed rare things like his photograph with Mahatma Gandhi, his Tamra Patra, etc. “We have even created a room that I spoke about earlier — ‘Atmadhvani’— like the sanctum in his house. We wanted the Mumbai art connoisseurs to experience Rumale in entirety,” she elucidated.

Varna Mythri

Varna Mythri |

The walls of NGMA have texts that explain the spirituality, originality and passion of Rumale’s work. Visit the gallery till April 15 to experience the amazing display.

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