I met Ramesh Pateria for the first time in the late 60s when I visited his show in the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. There was an untamed animal quality about him. Badly shaved and with hair unkempt he looked like a hobo on the street. But his pieces of art were outstanding. They were marble pieces carved with precision with a strong hand into stunning sculptures. They were far from realistic figures of lifesized damsels intricately carved in white marble that we commonly encounter in gardens in Europe. Pateria’s bold sculptures were startlingly different. They were modern forms, striking images in 3 dimensions, most of them 3 to 4 feet in size. Some were smaller, just 1 foot tall and some were bigger measuring 6 feet or more in length. The line was clean and looked like a painting materialized into a solid shape in marble.
I asked him, “Why marble?” He looked at my suited-and-booted appearance and smiled. “I like the material. It’s got lines and natural designs inside the rock. I take it as a challenge to bring out its inner beauty in my forms. Besides, marble is easy to work with.” He replied looking pleased that I was taking interest in his work. “Where do you find such beautiful marble rocks?” I asked him naively.
“You can find them in marble mines in Makrana in Rajasthan. You have to be there when the rock is being mined. Not all the pieces are interesting. The selection is easier at night when the cutting is being done under powerful lights which highlight the inner lines in the rock. I live in the mine like a common laborer in simple hut.” Pateria was candid with his explanation. His eyes were sparkling and he has a magnetic quality in his voice and gestures which overtook his shabby appearance. I liked him and his work. I bought one of the pieces.
We became friends. Every time he came to Mumbai we met and I listened to his experiences in the marble mine. He loved to passionately describe how he carved particular pieces using a focused light. He would move the light around the piece, raising and lowering it to show me how he shaped it as he carved it at night. The light cast shadows bringing out the features of the sculpture and I would see the lines as master strokes of the acclaimed artist! He told how he would sit in the open on foldable steel chair with a glass of local brew in hand looking intently on the raw stone. He would keep staring at it for several minutes at a time as he worked on its future shape in his mind. Sometimes he would make a sketch before starting to carve.
I delved into his history. Pateria was born in Rajasthan near the famous marble mines of Makrana. From childhood, he was fascinated with the work of marble carvers who chipped marble blocks to create statues of Hindu Gods. His attraction to shaping stones took him to an art school and resulted in his graduation from the College of Fine Arts in Baroda, a city in the State of Gujarat. He would work continuously for several hours with undiluted concentration as he sculpted marble rocks into modern art objects. His work attracted attention and earned him scholarships from Madhya Pradesh State in 1964-65, and Cultural Scholarship from Ministry of Education Govt. of India in 1967-69. He taught art to children at the Modern School, New Delhi in 1971-72. He then secured British Council scholarship to study sculpture at the Portsmouth Polytechnic in U.K. during 1972-73 and painting at the Royal College of Art, London in 1973-74. He had a number of shows to his credit and he is featured in the book “Indian Sculpture Today 1983” published by the Jehangir Art Gallery of Mumbai.
One day Pateria came to my house and announced to me and my wife that he had married! He introduced us to his wife Esther David who was a student of sculpture and as they had worked under a common guru Sanco Chaudhary they had fallen in love! Esther was the daughter of a famous Zoologist Reuben David who created the zoo in the city of Ahmadabad in India. But we wondered how it was going to work out with maverick Pateria. Our fears came true as soon they separated and thereafter they were divorced. Esther later turned to writing and became a well known author with many published books.
Recognition came Pateria’s way when he won the National Award for sculpture from the apex body of art and culture in India the Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi in 1969. Pateria regularly exhibited in National exhibitions in Trieenials and Biennales in India and Europe. As Pateria kept working he became a much sought-after artist with his works fetching five and later six figure prices. But in spite of his large income he continued to live in the same simple bohemian way. He won a number of awards in State exhibitions and in 1982 he was crowned with the prestigious “Shikhar Award” by the Madhya Pradesh Government.
A renowned art critic S.V.Vasudev wrote that Pateria “has grasped the modern idiom in full to arrive at an individual style which, again, is constantly renewing itself for extensive exploration of marble as a medium and sculpture as art – precise in its diction and profound in its meaning.”
Unfortunately for the art world, Ramesh Pateria died young at the age of 50 in a tragic accident in New Delhi in 1987. I was very sad that my friend was gone and India had lost a very fine sculptor at that. I wish that he had lived longer and filled the World with more of his wonderful visionary marble creations. But it was not to be. However his immortal art continues to delight us.