The Poet vs. The Painter

1955-1962

Upon this dark stair within your mind
With no rail to hold
Set down your soul,
With eye wide open.
And you shall fall
Unseeing.
As I am falling.
To no Kingdom
And no Dying.

Ribeiro returned to Bombay in 1955 after five years in Britain. He was in his early twenties and had begun working in life insurance. He had also started to write and paint and had hopes of being a published poet one day.

His first paintings, produced in 1958, were oil townscapes on paper. Painted in an expressionist manner, these architectonic pieces, he explained, had a deliberate “structural and linear aspect” and were darkly-coloured with flashes of colour, imbued with the imprint Goa had left on him. His icon-like heads - often of Christ, bishops or saints - were also drawn from the Christian tradition:

“My first influences... were the churches and statuary of the Catholic Church in Goa along with the symbolic ritual that went with it. The other and perhaps the strongest influence were the paintings of my brother 10 years senior.”

Ribeiro's youth spent in a cosmopolitan and vibrant Bombay undoubtedly nurtured his life-long interests which included music, literature, philosophy and astronomy. His artistic temperament was also shaped by the open house atmosphere of Hira Building where artists, writers and poets came and went. He had witnessed his brother's career emerge and known Souza's circle of artists and friends.

Ribeiro was, however, still a poet at heart and the only painter reading his work at British Council poetry-readings.

“In April 1962 ... the American poets Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Peter Orlovsky were in Bombay. After their reading on the terrace of theater director Ebrahim Alkazi's house on Warden Road, Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla, Lance, and I, together with the American poets, walked down to Ezekiel's apartment at 67 Breach Candy. When we got there, Ginsberg wanted to know what Indian poets were like...”

It was his first solo show at Bombay's Artist Aid Salon (1961) which launched his career as a painter. It set his destiny as an artist in a direction that sometimes, he felt, was beyond his control. It won him an early patron in the form of Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the nuclear physicist and founding director of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Trombay Atomic Energy Establishment. Bhabha secured him a commission from Tata Industries to paint the 12-foot ‘Urban Landscape’ mural for the Chairman and Chief Executive of Tata Iron and Steel, J.R.D. Tata. Further collector interest would soon follow. This included the trio of Jewish émigrés who had helped develop India's nascent modern art scene - Rudi von Leyden, Walter Langhammer and Emanuel Schlesinger, who had escaped Europe's Holocaust.

At the end of 1962, having had nine solo and group shows, Ribeiro and his wife decided to settle in Britain where he felt he would thrive.

A photograph of Lancelot Ribeiro