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

Untitled (Goat and Watermelon)

MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
Untitled (Goat and Watermelon)
gouache on paper
5 7/8 x 8 ¼ in. (14.9 x 21 cm.)
Executed circa early 1990s
Acquired directly from the artist by Margo and Michael Johnson, New Delhi, 1994

The artist Michael Johnson and his wife Margo met Manjit Bawa in New Delhi while they were visiting with the Australian delegates to the Indian Triennale in 1994. Having just co-curated an exhibition of Indian Art in Australia, Bawa was appointed escort for the country's contingent.


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


“The image fills the picture frame as sculpture confronts the viewer with its material reality. It energises the space within which it is seen with a mode of stillness specific to Manjit's form-making manoeuvres” (K.B. Goel, ‘Manjit Bawa’, Center for Contemporary Art Annual, New Delhi, 1990-91).

Inspired by his experience as a silk screen printer which saw him utilize simplified, uncluttered modes of expression, Manjit Bawa’s signature style suspends his forms against richly hued backgrounds in an effortless beauty borne from pristine, elegant simplicity. Bawa’s paintings demonstrate a preference for economy of line and form over narrative, where extraneous detail is eliminated in favor of bold contour and brilliant monochromatic backdrops of pure horizonless space. The influence of classical Indian and Western artistic traditions is evident both in Bawa’s poise and palette. While the artist’s lyrical forms recall those of Kalighat paintings, his saturated gem-like colors take inspiration from Pahari miniature paintings and his subtle chiaroscuro borrows from post-Renaissance traditions.

While he is best known for his large-format paintings, Bawa also produced a series of miniature format paintings with similar subjects for his own personal archives. Their intimate scale makes these exquisite works on paper perhaps the best examples of the influence of Indian court paintings on Bawa’s practice, perfectly showcasing the artist’s fastidious precision, rejection of perspective and mastery of color.

In the present lot, Bawa meticulously portrays a goat, a significant animal in the kind of agrarian society he grew up in, alongside a solitary segment of watermelon. The artist depicts each in solitude, shorn of extraneous elements and thereby transformed to exude a quiet, yet abstracted luminosity. The animal, painted in shades of ivory, muted yellow and white, appears almost dainty, seeming to float on elongated legs against a vibrant crimson background. Although reliant upon vivid chiaroscuro to indicate form and volume, Bawa refrains from adopting a textured background or conventionally dictated spatial perspective. His figures thus appear in suspended animation, eternally trapped in ethereal space. As Ranjit Hoskote notes, “his protagonists do not emerge from an imagined background or prop themselves up against the wide horizon of an opening world; rather, they manifest themselves suddenly, like apparitions, in a field that could well be an aura” (R. Hoskote, Manjit Bawa, Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, New York, 2000, unpaginated).

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