Manjit Bawa


From the small town of Dhuri, Punjab—where he was born—to becoming one of the well-known Modern artists in India, Manjit Bawa’s journey has been an arduous, but successful one. He studied fine arts at the School of Art, New Delhi between 1958 and 1963, where his professors included Somnath Hore, Rakesh Mehra, Dhanaraj Bhagat and B.C. Sanyal. It was under Abani Sen, that he gained a foothold in the art world and began to form his identity as an artist.
“He taught me to revere the figurative at a time when the entire scene was leaning in favour of the abstract. Without that initial training I could never have been able to distort forms and create the stylisation you see in my work today, ” recalls Bawa.
In 1964, Bawa moved to Britain and worked as a silkscreen painter for the next seven years, while studying art simultaneously. Upon his return, he was troubled by what to paint. Not wanting to imitate the European style, he looked towards Indian mythology and Sufi (school of Islam) poetry.
“I had been brought up on stories from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas (Hindu mythological and sociological texts), on the poetry of Waris Shah (a Punjabi poet) and readings from the Granth Sahib (holy book of the Sikhs),” he says
Bawa's canvases are luminous in their colours. Eschewing the palette of greys and browns that were dominant at the time, he opted for traditionally Indian colours like pinks, reds and violet and bold primary tones.
Nature plays a big role in Bawa’s works, inspired by his travels during his younger days. “I have been almost everywhere - Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat. I would spread a sheet of paper on the ground and draw the countryside. The colors and the simplicity of people I met fascinated me."
Besides nature, the flute is a recurring motif in his works. He has painted Ranjha, the cowherd from the tragic love ballad Heer Ranjha, playing the flute. He has painted Krishna with a flute, surrounded by dogs and not by cows as mythological paintings depict him. In the late ’90s, Bawa began painting circus figures, inspired by a brief time spent at the Kathputhli Colony in New Delhi, studying acrobats, magicians, puppeteers and other various performers.
Bawa worked most of his life in New Delhi. The artist passed away in 2008.