Heat Haze

Heat Haze
signed and dated 'Sabavala '62' (lower right); further titled, inscribed and dated '"Heat Haze." / By Jehangir Sabavala. / B'bay 1962.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
24 x 48 in. (61 x 122 cm.)
Painted in 1962
Acquired on a visit to India by Mrs. Donna Park, circa mid-1960s
Thence by descent
Kolkata, Asoka Gallery, SABAVALA, Exhibition of Paintings, 1963
Mumbai, Taj Art Gallery, Jehangir Sabavala, 29 January - 7 February, 1964

Lot Essay

Jehangir Sabavala’s “dexterity with colour arrangements may be seen in his striking interpretations of the Indian scene. There is nothing facile about his landscapes; they are deeply thought-out compositions which make a memorable impression on the viewer.”
- C.R. Mandy, Jehangir Sabavala Exhibition of Paintings, 1958

Painted in 1962, this landscape with its vivid, starkly differentiated palette is an exemplar of one of the most significant turning points in Sabavala’s oeuvre. It was during the early 1960s, a period of intense clarification in the artist’s work, that he defined and focused the language that would make his paintings “site[s] of epiphany” that transcended common genres and motifs. Describing this change, the artist’s biographer Ranjit Hoskote notes, “Between 1961 and 1964, Sabavala attempted to break away from the suffocating formality of Synthetic Cubism; and in this, he found a remedial alternative in the work of Lyonel Feininger […] ‘Through Feininger’s pure, precise and yet very delicate and personal renderings of cloud and boat and sea, I discovered the joys of extending form into the beauty and clarity of light. I became interested in the source of light, its direction, its effect. Through these experiments, gradually, my work changed.’” (R. Hoskote, The Crucible of Painting: The Art of Jehangir Sabavala, Mumbai, 2005, p. 89, 95)

Here Sabavala paints what appears to be a craggy landscape, likely inspired by his travels through Central India. However, this picture plane is neatly divided into three segments, each painted in shades of a different but related color to reflect perhaps different times of day, intensities of heat and the unique light conditions associated with each. The architectural structures enclosed by clear lines of sight are built from jagged shards of each of the three colors, hazily suggesting the roofs and arches that they represent. Titled Heat Haze, this work represents the pinnacle of Sabavala’s experimentation with form and light at the time, an investigation the artist would return to several decades later, in works like Sunburst (2000), Lunar Magic (2001) and the Casuarina Line series (2002) which explored diurnal and seasonal cycles.

Speaking about this period of Sabavala’s career, with particular reference to his landscapes, the critic S.V. Vasudev noted that he is, “No more concerned with producing mnemonics for nature, the artist concentrates on shapes in space and seeks to align the subjective, expressionistic urge with purely painterly values and technique, making use of Cubistic elements without rejecting the Impressionist feel for colour and light. The delicacy in applying colours wherever the rarified atmosphere is to be captured, the repeated search for forms seeking release in foreboding skies and seas, the undefined mood, suggest a certain turmoil in the artist’s mind. But one is aware all the time of Sabavala’s attempt to enrich and enliven his palette on a note of subtlety of broken and combined tones, assisted by ingenious brushwork.” (S. Vasudev, 'Analytical Notes', Sabavala, Mumbai, 1966)

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