A collection of works by celebrated artist Manjit Bawa on view

A recent exhibition in New Delhi was not just a display of works of art; it was a touching gesture on part of a daughter toward her ailing father, an illustrious Indian artist, Manjit Bawa, on eve of his 66th birthday. She put together a show of some of his canvases culled from her personal collection. The works were exhibited with an aim of providing an insight into his artistic processes.

The exhibition comprised many of the celebrated artist's famous works. It included his miniatures, large canvases, and also the portraits of the artist painted by son Ravi. Manjit Bawa's daughter Bhavna, the brain behind the event, was quoted as saying: 'The works belong to different phases and are meant to give onlookers a glimpse of my father's art.' Manjit Bawa's creations are based on mythological references as much as vignettes of everyday life in India. They reflect very original iconography that has won him respect and admiration the world over.

A believer in the Sufi philosophy Manjit Bawa used to be an avid traveler, apart from being well known as a musician and a poet. During his sojourns to different parts of India, he closely observed the people and the nature that have inspired him to paint.

No surprise, birds and animals make a constant appearance in his paintings, either alone or in human company. His canvases are distinguishable in their colors - the ochre of sunflowers, the green of the paddy fields, the red of the sun, the blue of the mountain sky. He broke out of the dominant grays and browns and opted for more traditionally Indian colors like pinks, reds and violet. 'The colors and the simplicity of people I met fascinated me," the artist has once stated.

Delving into his artistic processes, he has elaborated: 'To me, artistic structure is akin to a musical composition, in the gradually increasing tempo of beats. Like a musician, I endeavor to achieve greater perfection as I first draw, then transfer the finished drawing onto my canvas. Later, I start slowly adding colors. My challenge is to work with newer colors as I strive to attain the perfect composition while remaining true to my own iconography.'

While in the course of time, he arrived at his present iconography, there was no getting away from his inner need to draw sustenance from nature. As the artist has once stated, 'Nature continues to captivate my soul. Both the gentle beauty of a calm moonlit night and its harsher side symbolized by the raging storm transforms the same silent night into something wildly elemental and fierce. Being older today, I accept both. I also find the same philosophy coloring my other observations of nature.'

Besides nature, the flute is a recurring motif in his works. The figure of a flautist is captured often in his art eternally frozen in time, playing the flute to a flock of cows and buffaloes or may be just to trees. Divine images of Kali and Shiva also dominate his canvases. The artist is also known for his love of spirituality, and particularly of Sufi philosophy.

Drawing is his first love, as he put it: 'I was inspired to return to drawing after seeing Michelangelo's sketches and drawings at an exhibition in Amsterdam, where I had gone for one of my shows. The idea stuck in my mind. I don't work on demand, but follow my heart and mind, for I feel everything has a time and a place. I enjoy doing it, for it isn't decorative and loud. One can use minimum essentials to extract the maximum effect.'

Summing up his artistic spirit, the artist has been quoted as saying: 'There has to be a certain freshness and newness in one's art, otherwise it's pointless to pursue it. To be different means doing something you have never done before.'

His artistic spirit and passion is evident in the latest collection of his works on display.

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