Jehangir Sabavala was always in awe of nature

Jehangir Sabavala was always in awe of nature

His works even though distinct and far away from the contemporary art fads continue to fascinate children for its magical wonder and elderly for its visual artistry revealing the chimera of life.

Though Sabavala studied in the best of art colleges both in India and abroad, his palette grew mature when he started carving out his own path, exploring inner spaces more intensely with his brush shying away from getting shackled by any particular form or style.

The style over the years became a  living force for expression of the multiverse cosmos which he was trying to unravel in his pursuit of truth. Like most of the artists who either try to adopt a dominant style in vogue of the times or opt for an irrational experimental art, Sabavala in the beginning of his 60-year artistic journey embarked with an
umbrella of cubism and impressionism.

Post-war years had witnessed a lot of experimentation and emergence of different schools of art, each espousing a way and an ideology. Indian sub-continent also witnessed a mushrooming of various styles loosely termed “Modernist,” and “Progressive.”

Though Sabavala had started charting out his own course, the influence of European schools dominated his earlier work. However, within a span of decade he broke the shackles. His journey even though lonely became more and more introspective, and coupled with his fascination for the elements of nature, his style saw an organic growth acting as a catalyst to the expression of his alienation and meditations over life and cosmos.

In his own words, Sabavala once commented: My art, a mixture of academic, impressionist and cubist texture, form and colour, acquired a distinct style in the mid 60s. And with each step I have evolved a new experience. But if I look back, I find I have carried all the elements forward.

His scorn and indifference towards any particular variant of style in vogue probably helped him keep stagnation away and allow his creativity to evolve and develop. By late 60s and early 70s, his paintings started showing an artist’s effort to catch the fading shadows of life and the fleeting appearances of alienated people; the  result was that subtle contrasts in tone and colours on his canvases became more and more ethereal.

His works started delineating tension and melancholy lurking behind the angular and taut shrouded figures or faces; while the harsh urban vistas, hilly landscapes, coastal landscapes and skies tinted with fog, rain or hazy light were slowly transformed into a mythical and ethereal place.

Sabavala, by late seventies despite being labelled as neo-romantic by art critics, had started imbibing the sub-continent’s introverted mystical exploration, and the visual truths that were splashing themselves on the canvas had risen up above its geographical origins, examining universal existentialist and phenomenological themes of reality and alienation.

About Sabavala’s themes, Prakash Bal Joshi, belonging to a relatively younger generation,of artist, reminisces, “I once asked him as to whether he paints from his memory. Sabavala said: No. I love nature in all its forms but the vision themselves form with a kind of sublimation when I try to go behind the appearances.”

Joshi, who candidly admits to be influenced by the master, says: “It may not sound fashionable nor ideologically correct but after he broke away from European art traditions, he embarked on a spiritual journey and that is why his depiction of nature goes beyond the naturalist, self-satisfied banality or for that matter just look at his figures… they are not bland soul-less creatures. They are looking for something… they are not satisfied with the mutated world view. They want to transcend into beyond.

inhabiting his canvas are devoid of superfluous details, but his canvas sing out verses etching out plural realities behind the elemental world… hidden behind fog and mists, the night lights are pearly while morning and dusk lights are like soft delicate shadows, trying to come to terms with the opaque density of a mundane world.”

Probably, his very journey into the mists of reality and a deeper perception of the ephemeral world of surface chaos made him an enigma amongst his conte­mporaries. Noted artist Satish Gujral who had also studied with Sabavala at J. J. College of Arts, while recounting their students days at the academy in an article stated: “Even to those who claim to know him, he was an enigma. He was not a part of any group and was a loner who was extremely gentle but impeccably dressed.”

The dichotomy between his outward sartorial style and his inner anguish alienated him further from the predatory marketing world. Talking about his not so great popularity in the art market, Joshi says: “In today’s art world, it is the market which decides what art is and those who refuse to toe the line become victim of market McCarthyism witch-hunt.

Sabavala was not one of those sycophants willing to become a puppet of the so-call­ed official world of art managed by bankers, hedge fund managers who believe that art is just like any other stock market scrip. His work will stand the test of time and future generations will regard him as one of the Great Masters.”

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