Ratheesh T. is a leading contemporary Indian painter from the South Indian state of Kerala. His large figurative paintings, inspired by the people and landscape of his home state, present scenes from daily life that are rich with narrative possibility.Read More
Born in Kilimanoor, Kerala, Ratheesh T. studied at the College of Fine Arts in Trivandrum, graduating with a BFA in 2004. That year he also received a Royal Over-Seas League Scholarship to travel to the United Kingdom. Today Ratheesh still lives and works in Trivandrum. As he explained in an interview for India Art Fair, 'I like being in Kerala. I am inspired by its people and landscapes. I think my practice would change if I moved to a different place.'
Ratheesh T.'s paintings often comprise lush, radiant tropical forest backgrounds typical of the Kerala region, and ordinary people playing out scenes of daily life. A firm believer in painting life as it is, Ratheesh's paintings are a testament to observing and contemplating the people and the natural landscape around him.
The style and narrative structure of Ratheesh's paintings leave much to interpretation, presenting various forms of human communication and interaction in subtly dramatised tableaux that never tangibly offer the significance of the event.
These ambiguous interactions can be found in the broader communal setting, as in the bustling town space of Allotted Land (2018), but they can also be found in depictions of intimate familial interaction as we see in Kiss (2016)—a tender but narratively ambiguous moment. These human tableaux convey ubiquitous human experiences.
Even Ratheesh T.'s paintings where the human figure is absent show traces of human presence and interaction. In Independence Day (2017) one finds in the tropical forest—a complex natural matrix of entangled trees, branches, and greenery, painted in lavish and exacting detail by the artist—discarded detritus and a dilapidated shed upon which layers of graffiti declare both young love and political allegiances.
Some of Ratheesh's works are autobiographical, as the artist presents his persona in various ways. We can see the artist as the father in Kiss (Clear Pond) (2016), just as in Amma (2016) we see the artist putting rice on his plate. In Saami (2018), he hints at his humble beginnings, depicting a visit to his village and kin, where the villagers joke about his urbanised appearance and possessions.
In I Am (Cleaning Pond) (2015) Ratheesh's persona appears wearing nothing but a manic grin—his nakedness profanely renouncing the demands and expectations of the social sphere. In his hand is a hammer and behind him is a bed loaded with material possessions beyond which a demolished wall opens the view to a large pond being cleaned. The hammer and the smashed wall can be read as Ratheesh's desire to break away from the urban, materialist lifestyle to connect with nature.
Recurring in Ratheesh T.'s works are also motifs of purification, cleansing, and renewal. In Maranan (2013), the artist proffers a wholistic vision of birth, decay, dissolution, and resurrection. A skeleton lies across three landscapes that depict organised agriculture, unkempt blossoming vegetation, and industrial matter.
Ratheesh's art, touching upon universal experiences and emotions, has found a broad international audience. His work features in exhibitions not just across India but also in Britain, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. His work can be found in public collections such as the Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi.
Nine Painters from Kerala, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2018); India is Now..., Kunstverein Göttingen, Germany (2011); India Inclusive: Contemporary Art from India, World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland (2011); Open, Zoya Museum, Bratislava, Slovakia (2010); Everything, 12 Artists from India, Willem Baars Projects, Amsterdam (2008); KAVA 1, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi, India (2005).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021