TO THE DRAWING BOARD
IN THE DRAWINGS, THERE’S A BALLETIC GRACE TO BAWA’S COWS, LIONS, WARRIORS AND FIGURES FROM INDIAN MYTHOLOGY AN EXHIBITION OF MANJIT BAWA’S DRAWINGS GIVES DELHIITES A CHANCE TO SEE THE GENESIS OF HIS ART
Manjit Bawa had a singular passion for drawing. It didn’t matter if he was spending time with family, or if he was ensconced in his New Delhi or Dalhousie studio, Bawa was always incessantly doodling on anything and everything he could find—phonebooks, invitations, even the newspaper. As he liked to say, “Haath chalte rehna chahiye (The fingers should keep moving).” Sketching, after all, was “essential to his riyaaz,” says his daughter Bhavna Bawa. “The forms, shapes and the delicate balance between positive and negative space you see in his canvases were often perfected in his drawings, long before they were sent out into the world.”
On view at the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, until June 18, Kala Bagh, an exhibition of Bawa’s drawings and sketches, presents us a glimpse of the artist’s conceptual sensibility and his intuitive understanding of lines.
As usual, there’s a balletic grace to his rendition of cows, lions, warriors and figures from Indian mythology. From these early impressions (a selection of 33 are on show) emerged Bawa’s fully-realised, distinctively lyrical oil paintings. Bawa’s art—his celestial figures that float against the backdrop of his reposeful colour schemes—has for long been sought after by collectors and the auction market alike. In his authorised biography, In
Black and White, critic Ina Puri was perhaps right to ask, “Is he a storyteller or a mythmaker? Maybe neither, perhaps both.” One of Indian modern art’s indispensable giants, Manjit Bawa was a Sufi by temperament. With his long hair, greying beard and knowing smile, he could perhaps have even passed off as one. He was believed to have been born in a cowshed in Dhuri, Punjab in 1941. That perhaps explains the recurring motif of Lord Krishna and the cows in his work. Bhavna, however, points out that he never talked about his art “from a strictly religious point of view.” Instead, she says, he sought to portray the harmony between humans and nature.
“I am his biggest fan,” admits 37-year-old Bhavna, who, along with her elder brother Ravi, is the legal heir and cultural custodian of the late artist’s estate. “Bapu was a happy person. He managed to make every sorrow go away. If you had lost your faith, he was the kind of person who would help bring it back for you.” Sadly, Bawa suffered a brain stroke in the final decade of his life. He died in 2008, aged only 67. Bhavna, for her part, feels certain that every moment of his life was a joyous celebration. “I don’t think he ever saw suffering as ‘suffering.’ He believed in karma and a higher being. That gave him the courage to embrace personal setbacks.” ■