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MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)

Untitled (Acrobat)

Details
MANJIT BAWA (1941-2008)
Untitled (Acrobat)
oil on canvas
89 ¾ x 68 in. (228 x 172.7 cm.)
Painted in 1999
Provenance
Bose Pacia, New York
Private East Coast Collection
Sotheby's New York, 24 March 2010, lot 147
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
bhav, bhaav, bhavya, Frames of Eternity, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 1999 (illustrated twice, unpaginated)
Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2000 (illustrated, unpaginated)
Exhibited
Mumbai, Sakshi Gallery; Kolkata, Academy of Fine Art; New Delhi, Lalit Kala Akademi, bhav, bhaav, bhavya, Frames of Eternity, February-April 1999
New York, Bose Pacia, Manjit Bawa, Modern Miniatures, Recent Paintings, 8 April - 27 May 2000

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari

Lot Essay

Often when I am half-awake or asleep, I see these familiar figures and realise once again the truth that they are within me. My art is a mere expression of these feelings…there is no intellectual pretension, no need to conform to social norms, instead only heartfelt honestly, an expression of truth, as I feel it, see it and know it.
- Manjit Bawa

Inspired by his early experiences with silk screen printing, which he studied at the London School of Printing from 1967-71, Manjit Bawa utilized simplified, uncluttered modes of expression to develop a signature style in his works on canvas. Suspending figures and forms against richly hued backgrounds with an effortless beauty borne from pristine, elegant simplicity, Bawa has created an instantly recognizable aesthetic.

In this monumental painting, one of the artist’s largest, a circus acrobat gracefully floats above two galloping horses, indifferent to the agitation of the beasts, twirling an orange ribbon over her head. Part of a series of works Bawa started working on in the late 1980s, inspired by street performers, acrobats and circus activities he saw in his home state Punjab, and almost certainly in other artist's imagery such as Fernand Léger, the artist eliminates all extraneous detail in this composition in favor of bold contours and a monochromatic, deep red backdrop of pure horizonless space. The influence of classical Indian artistic traditions is evident both in Bawa’s poise and palette. While the artist’s mastery of simplified yet lyrical forms set against uncluttered expanses borrows from Kalighat paintings, the saturated gem-toned backgrounds he paints take inspiration from various schools of Indian miniature painting.

In the catalogue for Manjit Bawa’s 2000 solo exhibition at Bose Pacia, New York, the critic Ranjit Hoskote encapsulates the fantastic and ethereal energy that animates this seminal painting. “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 structures of the anatomist. The rounded contours of each toy-like figure speak of its prana, the life-breath that gives it a vital buoyancy, allowing it to occupy rather than be trapped in those flat, glowing, single-colour fields of red, yellow, green or blue that are Bawa’s hallmark device.” (R. Hoskote, Manjit Bawa, Modern Miniatures Recent Paintings, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2000, unpaginated)

According to fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan, what is so outstanding about Bawa’s unique practice is "[...] not the stroke-by-stroke structuring of the image but its instant unveiling in animated suspension. As the image is revealed, the backdrop itself becomes the enactment.” (J. Swaminathan, Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, New Delhi, 2011, p. 37) The subtle chiaroscuro with which Bawa depicts form and volume, faintly underlining the figures’ contours with a different tone of the same color, gives a unique sense of dynamism to his compositions. In the present painting, one of the largest canvases painted by the artist, the three figures – an acrobat and two horses – appear as if eternally suspended in perfect balance against an ethereal vermillion background. This graceful staging of Bawa’s human and animal figures against luminescent, monochromatic grounds does not indicate they are in a void, nor are these screens merely formal mechanisms or tableaus. Rather, they become tangible entities, as central to the work as the figures suspended against and within them. These color fields are neither land, sea or sky, but some form of ether in which Bawa’s protagonists are suspended in stasis, capturing moments and interactions that would otherwise be lost.
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