Irina ready to go to school (SK61)
CCS School of Arts, LO drawing, 1957-1960
Foundation Course Academy of Art Tilburg 1961-1963
National Academy of Art, Amsterdam, 1963-1968
Trained as a classical painter, Karsters has always sought to achieve a faitful
reproduction of nature. Working with paint, pencil, chalk and even ballpoint, he reveals an
utterly meticulous and thorough approach. During the seventies, he produced several
symbolic works but was mainly engaged in creating modest portraits and figure pieces in a
realistic style. To the work he produced from photographs he often added the caption
Ruben Karsters, the eldest of the three Surinamese artists, minces no words about the subjects of his creative passions. All are solidly grounded in objective sensate reality and presented in equally – indeed strikingly – lucid terms. His art is as classical as it gets. Art is verisimilitude, to invoke the Greek concept re-energized in 18th century language. And Suriname’s most respected portraitist is unapologetic about his mimetic style – each piece deftly executed with grace and finesse. The artist, in his aesthetic credo, has an infinite range of creative possibilities within the palpable world of objects – and so capturing the expressiveness of an individual subject, and reflecting through his creativity both what is strikingly individual and essential to the subject’s character is all in all for the 65 year old artist.
Many at home and abroad - familiar admirer and first-time gallery viewer - place Karsters in a class by himself. The Indian Minister of Overseas Affairs & Culture, the Honourable Vayalar Ravi, a first-time viewer in Paramaribo, at the opening of the “Colours of Suriname” Exhibition, reminisced about India’s world-famous author and painter S.M. Hoessein, when he saw Karsters’ work. Genuinely acknowledged as an autodidact, Karsters, at the age of seven, was an acknowledged wonder. So impressed were senior artists of the time, at the tender age of 12, they drafted him into their coterie. Before his fourteenth birthday, at the request of a Dutch amateur artist, he began teaching art, free of charge, to children between the ages of 8 to 13. At 20, young Ruben departed on a scholarship for the Netherlands where he formally studied art for seven years.
A visitor to his private artistic sanctum – an attic chamber perched atop his one-flat family dwelling and accessible by a flight of spartan wooden steps - treads with care in recognition that this environment has been purged of all that’s non-artistic. The artist’s lifestyle cut to the chase. Only essentials – there are no superfluities or excesses. In this sanctum of Apollo and his muses - a veritable gallery of expressive faces, sensitive nude studies, and images executed in multi-media formats – many framed, others on canvas, some in progress, others near completion – but each and every one fastidiously executed with the care that sometimes engages the artist’s creative powers 15 hours a day – the visitor senses that the very particles of air one breathes in this space have been sanitized and re-vivified by the goddess of art and beauty herself.
“It’s quite simple,” he says, “the serious student must first learn to see the object of art and beauty as it truly is. And so, drawing comes first. In the beginning, the untrained eye fails to discern many subtleties about any object.”
Karsters has spent the better part of sixty years seeking to perceive objects in ever-deepening clarity – to the point of seeking out ever-deeply every subtle, hidden nuance of tone, colour, shade and shadow ever-present in the world of objective reality. This is the devout passion of Ruben Karsters’ artistic consciousness. The extent of his penetrative vision and the gift of his reproductive capacity are truly remarkable and rarely seen these days in the world of visual arts. Given his obsession with light and shadows, some art critics compare him to his 17th century namesake, Rubens – curiously, of Dutch-Flemish origins. Watching him train and guide gifted students – even as an Eskimo easily perceives twenty different shades of ‘white’, Karsters’ visual awareness of gradations of hues, light and shades have penetrated to non-human levels.
With his fusillade of techniques honed over many years of successful experimentation, it’s a marvel to visit him when he’s consummately engaged in creating his masterpieces. Contemporary gallery viewers in India will be intrigued with his three contrastive studies of Kareena Kapoor. They lend themselves to a fascinating contemplation of this artist’s obsession with technique and execution: one study, fully executed using the gray scale; the second, in full-colour; and the third, a multi-media creation with the modern star in traditional Indian garb. The portrait study of Kapoor is complimented with the Karster’s take on popular singer, Himesh Reshammiya, in a cap, of course, and likewise, Jawarhalal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.
The work entitled “Mohan, Martin, Malcolm, Mandel: Mataji’s 4 Ms” will undoubtedly enchant aesthetes on the sub-continent. It’s a nostalgic reflective study of four masters of politics by the master of art himself. The glowing liberated faces of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela appear above the contemplative, serious – almost troubled - busts of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the American freedom fighters, also men of colour. Indeed, gazing to his left, the beaming, joyous face of the Mahatma, the apostle of peace, clad in white – the son of India and father of the modern independence movement – appears to have inoculated and infected his dancing counterpart, Nelson Mandela; both freedom fighters, who ironically were dramatically pitted at differing periods against entrenched Dutch supremacy and interests in southern Africa.
Life-like beauty, touching simplicity, sensitive charm – such are the key signatures of Ruben Karsters’ creativity. He is a living, embodied instantiation of the genius of a modern renaissance master in Suriname.
When I was aesthetically satiated and finally appeased to leave the Fort Zeelandia Museum on Indian Arrival Day in Suriname, I inwardly mused: “It’s amazing, though oceans away, how the memory of the ancient land of Bharata has been reignited with refreshing vitality through these three gifted, creative intelligences.”
© August 2007
All rights reserved
Written by Ivan A. Khayiat, M.A.
Expressly for “Indian Resonances & ‘The Colours of Suriname’ ”
Copyrights © Ruben Karsters, April 2009
© 2013 Guus Isaak / www.surinaamsekunst.nl