Manjit Bawa's command of color and space creates truly mesmerizing compositions. "[...] vital to the effect of Bawa's work is his brilliant play with color. His childhood memories of color were strong: green paddy fields, blue waters of the Beas River; bold strong hues of the local embroided pulkari shawls, the riot of color during the festival of Holi. While still a young artist, he consciously struggled to harness these experiences in his work. After art school Bawa went to London where he specialized in serigraphy. For a period, he earned his living in a silk screening studio and later he taught the technique. But his attachment was to painting. His mastery of serigraphy instilled an appreciation of the power of luminous pure color and sharply delineated forms." (S. Bean, 'Midnight's Children: The Second Generation', Midnight to the Boom, Painting in India After Independence, New York, 2013, p.128)
Bawa distilled figuration to its most essential elements, giving primacy to line by evoking elements of Kalighat painting, while simultaneously exploring the saturated and gem-toned hues of miniature painting. Bawa's oeuvre demonstrates a preference for color, line and form over narrative, eliminating extraneous detail in favor of an ambiguous, horizon-less space. Bawa insisted such, "Stylisation and figuration cannot be forced or imitated -- it flows naturally from an individual premise. At all times it's your own voice, your signature. As for drama, isn't it part of one's life? It certainly is part of mine." (Artist statement, I. Puri, Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, New Delhi, 2011, p. 43) The result of Bawa's harmonious process is his instantly recognizable aesthetic which evokes a powerful sense of gestalt. What is so outstanding about the artist's 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, 'Dogs Too Keep Night Watch', Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, p. 37) Bawa's luminescent monochromatic realities do not represent a void, nor are they merely a formal mechanism of tableau, but a tangible entity which is as central to the work as the figures suspended within it.
Bawa was heavily influenced by the power of ancient mythology and Hindu literature stating; "They remain to me basically mythical icons -- as Durga, Kali, Shiva, Krishna or even Heer-Ranjha, Mirza-Sahiba or Sohni-Mahiwal. In my world of imagination they are very real. I have known them from childhood tales and fables narrated to me by my father. As I grew up, I met them again in literature, music, poetry and art. What else can I paint? Or draw?" (Artist Statement, Ina Puri, Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit Bawa, p. 47)
In the present painting, Manjit Bawa presents the iconic Durga, the female supreme deity mounted on the back of her lion. Durga was created by the gods to destroy the invincible buffalo-demon Mahisha. Using her power, wisdom and beauty Durga won this cosmic victory and good triumphed over evil. Instead of wielding weapons and wearing armor, Durga is reduced to the elemental components of the female figure, riding a lion. The emblematic goddess embodies a delicate exquisiteness, profound purity and all pervasive truth all of which are reflected in the meditative qualities of Bawa's own aesthetic and technical prowess.
In this monumental painting, with a near sardonic simplicity, Manjit Bawa conjures a window into another world, revealing a realm of imagination, myth, mysticism and magic.