30 Dec : Renowned artist Manjit Bawa, who displayed his exceptional artistic talent through motifs of birds, animals and Indian mythology, died in New Delhi on Monday (29th December) after a prolonged illness.
The 67-year-old painter from Punjab’s Dhuri district was in coma for the past three years shuttling between hospital and his Delhi home after suffering from a stroke.Bawa, who began his career as a silkscreen printer in London in 1964, breathed his last on Monday morning at his Green Park residence in south Delhi.
His paintings attracted both Indian as well as international buyers with one of his paintings selling recently for USD 3.60 lakh.
Educated at Delhi’s College of Art and London School of Printing, Bawa started as a figurative painter and attained great heights in the form as he progressed in the field.
One of the first painters to break out of the dominant greys and browns of the western art and opt for more Indian colours like red and violet, the maestro was influenced by nature, Sufi mysticism and Indian mythology.
"He wanted to paint the sky red. He loved red. He was a brave painter who had the courage to follow his convictions unmindful of the popular trend. We will remember him for his energy," Ena Puri, author of a biography on Bawa, said.
Lalit Kala Akademi Chairman Ashok Vajpayee remembers Bawa as a man of conviction who helped young artists. "He was a versatile person. We will miss him," he added.
Birds and animals were a recurrent motif in his paintings, either alone or in human company, besides flute, an instrument which he learnt from Pannalal Ghosh, the doyen in the field of music.
Bawa had painted Ranjha, the cowherd from the tragic ballad Heer Ranjha and Lord Krishna with a flute surrounded by dogs and not cows as in mythological paintings.
Kali and Shiva, whom Bawa considers as "icons of my country", also figured prominently in his paintings.
There is an undercurrent of Sufi mysticism in the choice of his subjects like the idyllic scenes of love and peace, the flute playing Krishna, predatory animals and human beings appearing together, art critics say.
Though his foray into art was opposed by his mother, it was the elder brothers who encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a painter.
"My mother would try to dissuade me, saying art was not a means of livelihood. But my spiritual leanings dispelled my fears. I believed that God would provide me with food and I would earn the rest," the late artist had once said.
He was in College of Arts in Delhi where he was "moulded" by artist Abani Sen, whom Bawa credits for his ability to "distort forms and create the stylisation one see in my works today."
After his stint as a silkscreen printer in London, he returned to India where he faced a "crisis" in his life. "I asked myself what should I paint. I could not be just a derivative of the European style," he had said.
Bawa broke out of the traditional style and lavishly used vibrant colours for which he was criticised by some quarters as using "ice cream colours".
"We have been brought up on a staple of ochres, greys and browns in art. That’s why when I began using bright colours, the reaction was negative," he had said.
Bawa was later cremated in Green Park. The ceremony was attended by a number of his friends and admirers besides family members.
The artist is survived by a son and daughter. His wife died some years ago.
In a condolence message, the Lalit Kala Akademi said, "the creative community has lost a towering cultured figure, an important artist of our time and a great, warm-hearted and ever helpful friend."
Bawa has evolved a distinct style of his own and had an aesthetic vision deeply rooted but open to modern interpretation, it said, adding the lyricism and poetics of his picture created a long-lasting impression on his viewers.
"Active on social front by landing his voice to democratic and secular causes, Bawa would be missed both by his friends and numerous admirers," the message said.