An instrumental force in the making of newly Independent India’s aesthetic identity, K. G. Subramanyan’s extensive practice is exceptionally versatile - he was a writer, historian, theorist, artist, and teacher, crafting his own niche that resisted the confines of conventional boundaries. He embodied both an artist and an artisan, illustrating designs within the framework of fine art. Subramanyan often began his explorations inside a historical moment, be it mythology or politics, but his brilliance lay in deconstructing this fragment of the past by bringing it into a contemporary context.
Subramanyan's works are peppered with wit, subversion, eroticism, caricature, and social critique whilst engaging with a diverse range of materials. He formulated his own method of making, one that actively engaged with influences, and then interpreted them into newer ways of seeing. His narrative style twisted myths into metaphors, eroding the concrete boundary between the absolute and the imaginary.
Born in 1924, in Kerala, Subramanyan studied under the tutelage of Benode Behari Mukherjee, Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij at Santiniketan. He graduated from Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, there in 1948 and went on to become a lecturer at the Faculty of Fine Arts in M.S. University in Baroda in 1951. He studied briefly in London at the Slade School of Art as a British Council scholar in 1956 and did a short stint in New York as a Rockefeller Fellow in 1966. In 1980, Subramanyan went back to Santiniketan to teach in his alma mater Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, in the capacity as a professor in painting, which he continued till he retired in 1989. In the same year, he was made a Professor Emeritus of Visva Bharati. In the course of his almost seven decade career, Subramanyan had over fifty solo shows. There have been numerous retrospective shows of his work, most notably, K.G. Subramanyan, a Retrospective, curated by R. Siva Kumar at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2012.
Subramanyan passed away in 2016.