Manjit Bawa: Man of many colours beats a silent retreat (Tribute) (With Images)

December 29th, 2008 - 10:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) “I think everyone’s life is beautiful. I think there is a story in the lives of each and everyone of us,” master contemporary artist Manjit Bawa wrote in the preface of his biography, “In Black and White”, published in 2006. Bawa, who lost the battle with brain-stroke after three years, was a “grand story-teller”. He was 67.

He was gifted with a wealth of myths, facts, epics and anecdotes that often translated into his art, recalls curator Ina Puri, who curated most of Bawa’s shows, co-authored two books on the artist and produced two movies on him. One of the movies, “Meeting Manjit” by Buddhadev Dasgupta, won a national award.

“I just lived from day to day and whatever was happening just happened. Although the sun rises from the east everyday, no two days are exactly the same. Which meant I had stories to tell everyday,” he wrote.

Bawa was brought up on a staple of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas and on the poetry of Waris Shah (a Punjabi poet) and the Guru Granth Sahib.

The stories that he learnt in his childhood and recounted later reflected in the diversity of his art - that included both man, animal and mythical themes.

Bawa was a man of many shades - an artist, an accomplished Sufi musician, a cook par excellence and an animal lover.

Bawa was born in Dhuri in Punjab in 1941, studied at the College of Art in New Delhi and went to the London School of Printing in Essex to learn silk-screen printing. He worked in London from 1967 to 1971 as a silk-screen printer and set up a silk-screen workshop in Garhi village in the outskirts of the capital in 1977-78.

A figurative artist, Bawa simplified his figures in the model of Kalighat pots - slightly lyrical and flowing - and culled from the linear flow and the modernist lines that typified the art of Jogen Choudhary and his mentor, Abani Sen.

He stormed the Indian art world because of his lyrical use of colours during the sixties, when he began showing his works in the capital. He exhibited solo at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1977.

“The fact that Bawa painted animals - as few artists do - marks him as something of an individualist. The way animals are portrayed from uncommon viewpoints, the departures that change them with both nervous energy and sinuous grace are reminiscent of the Pahadi and Mughal masters. He also painted iconic Durga, Kali, Krishna, Shiva as well as the legendary Heer-Ranjha,” writes critic Kamala Kapoor of Bawa’s works.

Puri’s association with Bawa’s works dates back to 1998, when she took one of his works to Singapore as part of a group show. It was a goat set on an emerald background. The show was followed by a three-city show in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi, called “Bhav, Bhaav, Bhavya” which Puri co-curated with the Mumbai-based Sakshi Gallery.

“But, I think the best Bawa shows that I have ever curated are the ones on miniatures I held in Shantiniketan, the inaugural show of the modern gallery in Bose Pacia in New York and the ‘Mapping of Conscience’ exhibition on the 1984 riots in Delhi,” Puri said.

His last international show was in Berlin in 2005 with Ravinder Reddy.

“However, in 2006 I curated a show, ‘Making of Divinity’ which centred around a huge drawing of Shiva dancing Tandav after Parvati had been killed,” Puri said.

“Bawa recalls how he had been physically seized by the ends of rocks, the green of paddy fields on a hillside and the violet of the jacaranda tree,” art critic Ranjit Hoskote commented on Bawa’s show in 2005.

Filmmaker Buddhadev Dasgupta concurs, “Manjit’s art is complex and multi-layered. It beguiles the deceptive onlooker with his deceptive simplication. Manjit spent his lifetime honing his skills as a draughtsman, artist and colourist like a Zen master. He was also a minimalist and a purist.”

Bawa’s minimalism had something to do with his orthodox upbringing. As a child, his mother dissuaded him saying art was no means of livelihood. But his spirituality gave him the strength to take up art for a vocation.

“I abhor nudity and find it vulgar to paint nakedness. The rounded contours of my form may be sensuous, but I would not like art to exploit the human form, May be there’s an element of prudery too. I have grown up in an orthodox family,” the artist once said.

His works are on permanent display at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) in Chennai, Roopankar at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, the World Bank in Washington, the Peabody Esex in US and in the Smithsonian Museum in US. And his collectors include Bianca Jagger and Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan.

Bawa, however, died unrequited, as close friends and associates say. He was working on a dream project - a show titled “Kala Baagh (The Black Garden of Desire)”.

“It was the garden of desire where Shiva spent six months with Parvati. It was the forbidden garden where the trees bore crescent and stars instead of fruits,” Puri said.

Bawa wanted to follow “Kala Baagh” with his own version of “The Last Supper”.

But that was not to be. The artist, survived by a son and daughter, was cremated in the capital Monday noon in the presence of friends, family, well-wishers and the media.

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