Untitled (Bird, Tree and Mountain Series) epitomizes Jagdish Swaminathan’s fascination with developing a pure and true form of representation through art. He argued that traditional Indian paintings were never meant to represent reality in the naturalistic sense. In 1962, Swaminathan joined with fellow artists to form Delhi based artist collective, Group 1890. They rejected ideals of Western Modernism and the “vulgar naturalism and pastoral idealism of the Bengal School,” instead seeking to “see phenomena in its virginal state.” (Y. Kumar, ed., Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 298)
By the late 1960s, Swaminathan settled upon a visual aesthetic and philosophy which sought to renew tribal and folk art in a contemporary context. Swaminathan proposed a paradigm of purity, revealing an alternate reality that is primal, spiritual and mystical. In this painting, Swaminathan uses color as a means of representing an introspective universal reality. “To understand colour as harmony was to limit oneself to look at it as representation, be it in terms of nature association or representation. Geometric areas of colour in certain juxtapositions created infinity on a two dimensional plane. [...] Here all the rules of tonalities, of harmonies, of warm and cool colour broke down. Thus primary colours could be used to achieve an inward growing, meditative space [...] The introduction of representational forms in the context of colour geometry gave birth to psycho-symbolic connotations. Thus a mountain, a tree, a flower, a bird, a stone were not just objects or parts of a landscape but were manifestations of the universal’.” (Artist statement, ‘Modern Indian Art: the Visible and The Possible’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, p. 49)
Using his iconic, stylized signifiers of bird, tree and mountain, the artist conjures a two dimensional cosmos that is both meditative and metaphorical. As if bewitched, the two birds hover above the otherworldly topography, neither soaring nor landing. The artist used the term ‘numinous image’, borrowed from Philip Rawson to speak about the ‘para-natural’ – the magical and mysterious essence of things – that is ever present yet unavailable to the senses. In this composition, Swaminathan has constructed a world that transcends time and space and induces a meditative stillness that became the artist’s obsession. The painting’s reverential representativeness seeks to reveal undiscovered forces of nature.