Veteran painter and print artist, hailed by many as the father of modernism in painting in Odisha, Ajit Keshari Ray passed away at his Ranihat residence here on Wednesday evening. He was 90 and is survived by his wife Geeta Ray, a son and a daughter.
Born in 1922 in Sakhigopal, Puri, he had shown inclination to arts from a tender age. After completing schooling from the elite Doon School, Dehra Dun, in 1938, he joined Santiniketan to study Fine Arts in 1940 under the tutelage of the doyen of Indian painting Nandalal Bose.
He counted legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray as his close companion as both shared a room at Santiniketan. He then went on to specialise in sculpting, wood engraving and graphic art at the Anglo French Art Centre in London.
On returning to India in 1951, he joined as a lecturer in painting at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Khallikote, and retired as its principal. It was during this time, he along with his contemporaries SC Debo and Anant Panda heralded modernism in Odishan painting.
The first Lalit Kala Akademi award for modern painting was bagged by him for his work, ‘The Flight’.
One of the leading painters of his time in the country, he had established his own Cubism style, drawing inspiration from its pioneers like Picasso and Braque. His style was a subject of research for many with scholars from prestigious institutions like Santiniketan and Benaras Hindu University choosing his paintings for their doctorate thesis.
Ray received wide acclaim for his invaluable contribution to art. Besides the State Lalit Kala Award and the prestigious Dharmapada award in 2000, he was also accorded the title of ‘Kala Bibhusan’, instituted by the Working Artists Association.
He also served as the president of the Lalit Kala Akademi while being a jury in the National Exhibition of Arts. His works have not only gained critical and popular acclaim in exhibitions across the world but also are in collections of various organisations and individuals.
His autobiography, ‘Portrait of a painter’, edited by eminent painter and art historian Dinanath Pathy was also released by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in 2003.
His death has been mourned by the painters and artists of the State.