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The tawny hues of sunflowers

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manjit bawa painting 2

The tawny hues of sunflowers, the greens of the grassy lands, the crimson shades of the sun…all describe the freshness that exhales from the canvases of Manjit Bawa-one of the master painters of his time. Born in Dhuri, Punjab, in 1941, he was one of the first painters to break the conventional mould of browns and greys and used brighter Indian colours like pinks and reds. Natural surroundings used to be a great source of inspiration for Bawa.

His family always discouraged him to become a painter but his spiritual inclination made him follow his heart’s desire. In Bawa’s words, “I had no qualms. I believed God would provide me with food and I would earn the rest.”

He carved a niche for himself under Abani Sen, who inculcated in Bawa the ability to admire the figurative at a time when everyone was inclining in support of the abstract. “Without that initial training I could never have been able to distort forms and create the stylization you see in my work today”, said Bawa.

After working as a silkscreen painter in Britain between 1964 and 1971, Bawa returned to India and found the stimulation for his paintings in Indian mythology and Sufi poetry. Since his childhood he had been fascinated by stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas. Waris Shah’s poetry and teachings of the Holy granth of the Sikhs intrigued him and gave him a motivation to paint.

Bright colours adorned Bawa’s paintings as he felt that these are very close to Indians coz they have permeated deep in their hearts. Criticism and negative comments over the use of so-called ‘ice-cream’ colours never disturbed him and he infused freshness in his canvasses with tinges of bright colours.

Flute is a persistent image in his paintings. Bawa learnt to play the instrument from flute maestro Pannalal Ghosh. He has painted Ranjha, the cowherd from the heart-rending love ballad Heer Ranjha, playing the flute. He also painted Krishna playing the flute, surrounded by dogs, quite unlike to what mythological paintings portray him, where he is surrounded by cows. Kali and Shiva also dominated Bawa’s paintings, who, he felt were the icons of India.

His love for mysticism and spirituality, especially for Sufi philosophy trickled from his thoughts and words. He used to say, “I find a wealth of wisdom in the scriptures. Sufi philosophy has taught me that man and man, man and animals, can co-exist”.

Drawing was the heart and soul of Bawa, and he considered it his first love. Michelangelo’s sketches and drawings enthused in him a desire to draw.

Manjit Bawa always followed where his heart led and never worked on demand. He believed that everything has a time and place. Truly, his works are immortal and his paintings are an irreplaceable contribution to the world of art. His only desire that had been left unfulfilled was to paint the sky red!

manjit bawa painting


Written by Jaspreet Kaur

June 9, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Contemporary Art

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