Sabavala’s œuvre was unlike that of any other Indian artist practising during the Modernist era. Educated at notable institutions in Mumbai, London and Paris, Sabavala returned to India in the 1950s and combined his formal technical skills with inspiration drawn from the vibrant Indian landscape to produce an awe-inspiring body of works.
Over the decades, there were notable shifts in the style and subject matter of Sabavala’s paintings. From the geometric and tightly ordered Cubist compositions of the late 1950s to the semi-Cubist abstractions of the mid-1960s, Sabavala’s paintings of the 1970s reflect spaciousness and a loosening of formal order. His paintings started to focus on the luminosity of colour, the varied effects of multiple tones and the rendering of spatial dimensions through the gradation of light. The sky and the sea also begin to dominate the subject matter of Sabavala’s canvases from this time period. Sabavala explained the shift in his idiom in a letter to Ranjit Hoskote, the artist's biographer, “I seem more drawn to the sea and sky of the western seaboard and to the ridges and dunes of our desert areas. To the arid wastes of Rajasthan where all is adobe-coloured, and the land and sky merge into one, but no focal point is ever lost.” (R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Bombay, 2005, p. 112)
In The Hooded Day the sea and sky are almost indecipherable. The sea itself is indiscernible from land but for the three ghostly sailing ships and the reflection of the moon on its surface. The moon itself hangs in the sky, partly obscured by a grey cloud, the angular form of which possesses an avian quality. The mirroring of the sea and sky is further emphasised by the mountain range on the horizon; these planes of dark grey are echoed both in the ominous folds of grey sky at the top of the canvas and in the swathes of greenery in the foreground. 'The entire sweep of the painting seems horizontal. But the tonal transitions are predominantly vertical. So one sees two simultaneous movements creating a dynamic stillness in which the tentatively poised bird-cloud and sail-forms become pivotal.' (Chitre, The Reasoning Vision, p. 10)
This painting is testament to Sabavala’s perspectival and tonal capacities to create tranquil and ethereal spaces with remarkable depth. Dilip Chitre neatly summarises the resonance of the artist's works: 'Each of Sabavala's paintings belongs to a universe uniquely his own. And that universe, though clearly perceptible, compels one to look for the laws that govern it.' (Chitre, The Reasoning Vision, p. 10)
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