Tan Yuan Chameli Ramachandran is an Indian artist of Chinese origin who is recognized for her distinctive style of delicate brush work derived from Chinese paintings and calligraphy for an ethereal, delicate portrayal of Indian vegetation and nature.
She was born as Tan Yuan in 1940 to Professor Tan Yun Shan and Mrs Tan Chen Nai-Wei in Santiniketan (West Bengal, India) where her father was Founder-Director of Cheena Bhavana (Institute of Chinese Studies) at Visva Bharati University.
She was given the Indian name Chameli after the fragrant jasmine flower by the Nobel Laureate and university founder Rabindranath Tagore. Since then she has carried it as a signifier of the amalgam of these two cultures – Chinese and Indian -- that have shaped her life and art.
She spent her formative years in Santiniketan and eventually moved to New Delhi after her marriage to the well-known Indian artist A Ramachandran. However, it is during the many years spent in this university-town that Chameli absorbed the teachings of Tagore and the Santiniketan environment with its regular celebration of and pleasure in nature.
Here she obtained a Masters degree in Indian history and culture. She also studied art at Kala Bhavana (Department of Art) at Visva Bharati University where she was taught the brush and ink technique of Chinese paintings though it is the beautiful calligraphy produced by her father that would become the subconscious inspiration for her own works.
Nature is the dominant theme of her paintings. She has been stimulated by the plants and vegetation that she observes around her. In the beginning, she painted garden-varieties like hibiscus and gardenia planted outside her house and trees like peepal, rain tree, and silver oak whose trunks, branches, and leaves she could observe from her windows. Later, frequent trips to Thiruvananthapuram inspired her to capture the palm trees and lotuses that abound there. Recently, she has attempted to portray the many pigeons in flight viewed from her apartment there and the rocky outcrops on the beaches of Kerala in her works.
Chameli uses the Chinese ink and brush method for her works which means that plants, vegetation, and nature are captured using fluid brush strokes. These are free-hand, spontaneous works requiring strong control and command over the brush. Such a method does not allow for revisions or re-working of the painted lines and strokes. Unlike the traditional Chinese method, however, she has added subtle hints of metallic, gold colors to some of her works.