Sabavala is a poet who distils the essence of his native landscapes and atmospheres into a semiabstract form that is actually refined, highly controlled and quite original. Within a deliberate austerity that approaches asceticism, he sums up the quality of the light, the climate, the stillness, the mystery, the whole vastness of the place.
- The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 1969
Located between the real and the ideal, the landscapes Jehangir Sabavala creates are timeless. Although paintings like this one are inspired by scenes he encountered on his travels in the Western Deccan region of India, they are carefully planned and constructed based on meticulous linear schema and highly nuanced colour plans comprising several ‘broken tones’. The end results are landscapes unlike any others, at once restrained and emotionally charged.
Speaking about this process, Richard Lannoy noted, “The technique which he evolved quite slowly [...] is based on transparency, glazes, effects of inwardly glowing objects obtained by exploiting the white of the canvas as a kind of backlighting. This gives the surface of his paintings a glistening crystalline sheen. The individual hues and tones, being mixed separately in subtly but cleanly differentiated gradations, impart to the picture surface a cleanliness and clarity of hue which is very unusual. And I believe this brilliance of the matière is conditioned by the relative brightness of the Indian viewing light – not the same thing as brightness of colour. His mastery of light effects is based on a lifetime’s study of natural Indian light without resort to banal naturalism.” (R. Lannoy, ‘The Paradoxical Alliance’, Pilgrim, Exile, Sorcerer - The Painterly Evolution of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai, 1998, p. 16)
In this 2004 canvas, Sabavala paints a verdant gorge nourished by a full river from an amalgamation of perspectives. Simultaneously looking down on the turbid water and the rocky island it surrounds, and out towards the far horizon where pale mountain tops and a small shard of afternoon sky are visible, the artist maintains distance from the scene. At the same time, the bridge that spans the ravine and the few homes on the island betray a modern, urban human presence, a new development in the artist’s oeuvre.
Writing about this painting, Sabavala’s biographer Ranjit Hoskote observes that it illuminates the constant evolution in the artist’s work, here in his use of the river as a motif. “The river, as always, serves Sabavala both as a visual excitement and as an image of the passage of time, the self and the world growing older, pursuing a strict course yet performing variations on destiny [...] in ‘The Bridge’, a sleek bridge has tamed the riverine landscape and the island, too, has been domesticated by houses.” (R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai, 2005, pp. 170-171)