Property of a Prominent Private collector
MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)

Untitled (Gaja Lakshmi)

MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
Untitled (Gaja Lakshmi)
oil on canvas
75 5/8 x 65 7/8 in. (192 x 167 cm.)
Painted in 2004
Formerly from the Estate of Manjit Bawa
Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2011, p. 65 (illustrated)


Manjit Bawa pared figuration to its most essential elements, giving primacy to line by evoking elements of Kalighat painting while simultaneously exploring the saturated and gem-toned hues of miniature painting. The artist's style was further inspired by his experience as a silk screen printer during the mid-1960s, focusing on broad colour planes and uncluttered forms. Bawa's oeuvre demonstrates a preference for line and form over narrative, eliminating extraneous detail in favor of an ambiguous, horizon-less space. Bawa's command of colour and space creates truly mesmerising compositions. His "[...] free flowing, arabesque figures, both human and animal, are almost like personifications of fragments of thoughts, ideas, of words and poetry, that are introduced into a rational real world by him." (A. Vadehra, Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, New Delhi, 2011, p. 7)

Gaja Lakshmi is one of the manifestations of the goddess of wealth, flanked by two elephants lustrating her with devotional ardour. Since the elephant is emblematic of royalty and vigour, this imagery further reinforces the connections between divine and earthly power. The auspicious iconography of Lakshmi being bathed by elephants is derived from the story of the sea of milk being churned by the gods (devas) and demons (rakshas) to discover all of its gifts, and is depicted on a grand scale in the present work.

What is so outstanding about the practice of Manjit Bawa is, "[...] not the stroke-by-stroke structuring of the image but its instant unveiling in animated suspension. As the image is revealed, the backdrop itself becomes the enactment." (J. Swaminathan, 'Dogs Too Keep Night Watch', Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, New Delhi, 2011, p. 37) Bawa's luminescent monochromatic realities do not represent a void, nor are they merely a formal mechanism of tableau, but a tangible entity which is as central to the work as the figures suspended within it. With an almost sardonic simplicity, Manjit Bawa conjures a window into another world, revealing a realm of imagination, myth, mysticism and magic.

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