Kalpathi Ganpathi Subramanyan (KG Subramanyan) was born in a village in North Kerala, in 1924. He pursued Economic Studies in the Presidency Collage, Chennai. However, owing to his active involvement in the freedom struggle and his Gandhian ideologies, he was restricted to enter in government colleges during the British Raj. Subramanyan turned this into an opportunity to explore his interest in art. In 1944, he visited Santiniketan to study at Kala Bhavan, the art faculty of Visva Bharti University. Here Subramanyan studied art till 1948, under the tutelage of prominent Indian modernists such as Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baaji.
Other than being a prolific artist, KG Subramanyan was also a writer, a teacher, an art historian and a scholar. His artistic career began in the 1950s. Through out his career, Subramanyan worked with several mediums including oils and watercolours. He also created drawing, sculptures, murals and engaged in set design, toy making, pottery, weaving and glass painting. His involvement with his art, steered Indian modern art into a new direction.
Later in 1951, he started teaching at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University, Baroda and briefly studied at Slade School of Art in 1956 as a British Council Scholar. In 1966, Subramanyan also received J D Rockefeller III Fund Fellowship that facilitated him with a year long stay in New York. During this time, Subramanyan dived deeper to explore his interest in semi-abstract artworks.
Subramanyan’s artworks are a beautiful combination of European Modernism and Indian folk expressions. Folk traditions from his home state; Kerala and over all India, had a huge influence on Subramanyan’s artworks. He was also inspired by the traditional Bengali art; Kalighat painting and Pattachitra. He often fused myths and stories from ancient Indian history with contemporary art that were inspired by Picasso’s cubism, Tanjore paintings, African masks, etc. among many other traditional and modern art forms from the world. He explored figurativism in the form of painting women, children, animals and objects, before finally receding to painting still lives in the later years.
His career spans over a period of 7 decades, during which he participated in numerous group and solo shows in India and internationally. His works were showcased at the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, among many other prestigious galleries. In 2003, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi and Mumbai organised KG Subramanyan’s Retrospect. He was also awarded the prestigious Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan Puraskar by the Government of India for his exceptional contribution to Indian art.