Lot 1404
  • 1404

Manjit Bawa (b.1941)

180,000 - 220,000 USD
225,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Manjit Bawa
  • Untitled
  • Oil on canvas


Given to the previous owner by the artist in 1980

Sotheby's London, 31 May 2011, lot 35

Catalogue Note

Manjit Bawa's luminous paintings are an exploration of form and space that draws the viewer into an intimate experience with the artist's imaginary world. With an emphasis on colouration, his blending and gradation of colours on the subjects have an element of post-Renaissance painting, yet flat backgrounds and dismissal of perspectival space prevails. Bawa has attributed his bright and flat color fields to his work as a silk screen painter in the United Kingdom during 1964-71. This feature seems to render the forms weightless and his humans and animals project a sense of vulnerability, seeming to appear like magic in the forefront, almost like an apparition. Bawa's figures emote a sense of solace. '...his protagonists do not emerge from an imagined background or prop themselves against the wide horizon of an opening world; rather, they manifest themselves suddenly, like apparitions, in a field that could well be an aura. This is why Bawa's figures, modeled in a surreal manner as they are, can safely be placed in a tradition of innovation and experiment that goes back through the prints and paintings of Kalighat and the Company School to the miniatures of the Mughal and Rajput ateliers.' (Ranjit Hoskote, Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, Bose Pacia Gallery Exhibition catalogue, 2000, unpaginated) His use of background space as a unified whole, combined with very Indian colours such as mustard yellow, cerulean blue and chilli red are reminiscent of Pahari miniatures, yet Bawa imbues a sense of ethereality or other otherworldliness in his works that truly makes him unique. 'If Manjit Bawa's iconography seems to replay a series of classical themes inherited from Indian tradition, we ought not to forget that it also derives its potent charge from the attention he pays to the ever-pixellating textures of contemporary experience.' (R. Hoskote, Manjit Bawa: Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, Bose Pacia Modern, 2000, unpaginated)

This canvas depicts the human-animal dynamic that is ubiquitous in Manjit Bawa's works. 'Often in Bawa's paintings, humans and animals engage in a wordless dialogue that throws its participants back onto an older, nearly forgotten language of instinct and intuition. [...] The mauve panther, the bull poised to charge, the circus artiste whirling a streamer as she balances on two spirited horses, the blue flautist- each form, animal and human, rejoices in its plasticity and libidinal energy, its gymnastic ability to defy the strictures of the anatomist.' (ibid.)

Bawa fondly reminisces about his artistic choices and aptly says, 'Being a turbanned Sikh from an ordinary middle-class family was daunting enough but to strike out against the prevalent forces of Cubism and the iconic Klee was to really ask for big trouble and I was hauled up time and again with strict instructions to toe the line. But I remained true to my calling, naturally annoying authorities. Even then in those formative years I was haunted by the spectre of mediocrity. I was willing to accept any challenge, but on my own terms. I was obsessed with one driving need – to create my own painterly language.’ (M. Bawa, ‘I Cannot Live By Your Memories, Manjit Bawa in Conversation with Ina Puri’, Let’s Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2011, p. 47)