• Thursday, April 25, 2024


New exhibition paints a picture of Lancelot Ribeiro’s life and work

Lancelot Ribeiro surrounded by his paintings


It was in Hampstead, north London, that the artist Lancelot Ribeiro settled and called his home.

Ribeiro, whose family was from Goa, was born in Bombay in 1933. He arrived in bomb-damaged Britain in 1950 having followed the journey of his half brother Frances Newton Souza, a renowned painter.

An exhibition of his works, featuring paintings with bold outlines depicting church spires, domes and townscapes in an expressionistic style, was recently launched as part of the year-long project celebrating Indian culture.

For his daughter Marsha Ribiero, the exhibition in London’s Burgh House is personal and poignant, and one which she helped to curate six years after his death. As she guides me through the compact space with a sense of pride on a cold November afternoon, she points out wooden toy blocks displayed in a glass cabinet which Ribeiro made for his children nestled among photographs and memorabilia.

Receptacles made from grasses picked by his daughters during walks on the heath also feature in the gallery.

“We wanted to give a flavour of how prolific he was and how he varied in style. He was very well known in the 1960s in India for his small impressionist townscapes. What I’ve been trying to do since his death is to show that he’s constantly been experimenting and reinventing himself throughout the years,” says Marsha.

Calm watercolour nature scenes hang on the gallery walls in contrast to the frantic dark cityscapes and frenzied figures painted in oils.

In the early 1960s, Ribeiro began experimenting with what was then an industrial solvent called PVA – which he would mix with oil paint giving his works a textured sheen. It became a forerunner to acrylics.

Not only did he paint, but he also produced ceramics and wood sculptures, and was known for being restless and compulsive.

Arriving in Britain as a teenager, Ribeiro was sent to study accountancy by his father but the life of an artist beckoned when he began life drawing classes at St Martins School of Art.

He was then called up for conscription, and he carried out a short stint in the Royal Air Force before being given compassionate leave.

On his return to India for a short period, Ribeiro began writing poetry and painting. Soon a string of successes followed his first sell-out exhibition in Bombay in 1961, gaining him considerable attention.

A year later, he settled in Britain and established his studio in Belsize Park, exhibiting in some of London’s leading art galleries. Marsha explains that her father lived through turbulent times through history when borders were changing.

The exhibition reveals the racist abuse he received, having been assaulted in London soon after he arrived in the UK. This incident spurred him on to form a group for Indian artists to try and break down the barriers they were finding in the British art scene, including prejudice, marginalisation and type casting.

“It was seminal in bringing Indian art to where it is today,” says Marsha.

The collective once stormed into the office of a junior official at India House and demanded they put on a show.

“They were trying to awaken the cultural departments to say, ‘here are artists who have assimilated their experiences from being in Europe coming from a rich civilisation who need to be noticed’,” Marsha explains.

In 1980, the artist sought to bring the Arts of India to Burgh House where his creations hang today.

Marsha is now involved in a film project looking at issues that affected her father and how they resonate today.

Retracing Ribeiro runs until March 2017. Go to www.burghhouse.org.uk for more information.


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