MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
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MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)

Untitled (Devi)

MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
Untitled (Devi)
signed and dated 'Manjit Bawa 93' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
64 1⁄8 x 78 1⁄8 in. (162.9 x 198.4 cm.)
Painted in 1993
Acquired directly from the artist, 1995
Paintings by Manjit Bawa, exhibition brochure, Bethesda, 1995 (illustrated, unpaginated)
India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, Rutgers, 2002, p. 28 (illustrated)
P. Bhaggeria and P. Malhotra, Elite Collectors of Modern & Contemporary Indian Art, New Delhi, 2008, p. 78 (illustrated)
Bethesda, Tak Residence, Paintings by Manjit Bawa, 4-5 November 1995
Rutgers, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, 2002


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


Inspired by his experience as a silk screen printer, which saw him utilizing simplified, uncluttered modes of expression, Manjit Bawa’s signature style suspends his stylized figures, stripped down to essential, almost Platonic, forms, against rich backgrounds of single jewel-like colors. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bawa abandoned the painterly application of pigment and busy, textured surfaces in favor of delightful compositions with boldly contoured, subtly shaded figures floating against horizonless planes of vivd color. This peerless and instantly recognizable visual vocabulary is characterized by pristine finishes, elegant simplicity and a beauty that seems effortless.

Bawa was an image maker, where the techniques of painting, like a magician’s tricks, were less important than the end result. His paintings do not attempt any vain verisimilitude or narrative. His focus was, "[...] 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). The influence of classical Indian artistic traditions is evident both in Bawa’s style and also in his choice of subject matter. The artist's lyrical line borrows from Kalighat paintings, his saturated fields of pure color take inspiration from Indian miniature paintings, and his choice of subject often borrows from classical religious texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. Bawa visited specific mythological themes throughout his career, sometimes depicting iconic elements of the Mahabharata including Krishna in his many manifestations, or Gods and Goddesses like Shiva, Kali and Durga. The present lot is a particularly exuberant example of this, showing the artist at his sardonic best. At first glance, it seems almost like a domestic scene with a sleeping male and modest female shielding her face in a manner the artist would revisit many times. Nearby, a playful cat jumps at the woman, who is flanked by hovering fruits and vegetables on the other side, all trapped in the artist’s signature suspended animation. However, on closer inspection, the viewer comes to see that the seated female figure could represent the goddess Kali, the prone male figure at her feet Shiva, and the cat may even be a playful reference to Durga's lion mount. These are all subjects Bawa regularly depicted, but rarely combined in such a whimsical manner.

Painted in 1993 and exhibited at one of the artist's first shows in the Tak home a couple of years later, this monumental, striking canvas conjures a seductive reality where gods, men, and beasts live peacefully in enchanted empires. Suspended within a rich, crimson background, the figures in this painting consciously avoid the trappings of a single direct narrative, while alluding to many. Bawa condenses his forms to focus on specific images, leaving the rest of the narrative to suggestion and the viewer’s imagination. Together, the figues open a window onto another world, revealing the artist's unique creative process, equally informed by myth, mysticism and magic. Reading the imagined interplay between Bawa's characters as a vital part of his work, the critic, Ranjit Hoskote notes, in Bawa's worlds, "humans and animals engage in a wordless dialogue that throws its participants back onto an older, nearly forgotten language of instinct and intuition. Standing before these paintings, we realize that Bawa has long been preoccupied with the theme of a universal language of communication" (R. Hoskote, Manjit Bawa: Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, New York: Bose Pacia, 2000).

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