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Item Description:


Oil on canvas


44 3/4 x 68 in. (113.5 x 172.8 cm.)

Signed and dated in Devanagari and further signed and dated 'J. Swaminathan / '93' on reverse


Purchased directly from the artist by the current owner during his posting in India for the German Embassy in New Delhi.

'The quintessential Swaminathan is rooted in tribal graffiti's graphic experience. He is as whimsical as a raving maenad. Because he is whimsical, unpredictable, he paints as a man possessed: vocabulary is as loaded with metaphors as any metaphoric tribal wall; nothing new is consciously attempted, only the fanciful marking, representing the mood of the moment, is brought into play: automatic scribbling, patternings that cancel out weight against image, smudge against crust, and of course the crisscross doodling game.' (K. B. Goel, 'The Self', J. Swaminathan, exhibition catalogue, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1993, unpaginated)

By the early 1960s, Swaminathan had rejected the 'sugary sentimentalism' of the Bengal School, and despite admiring artists such as M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, V.S. Gaitonde, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta, he felt that they had switched to an entirely western type of modernism, which he believed had lost its way, or was already in decline. This led him to become a founder member of Group 1890, whose manifesto stated: 'To us creative expression is not the search for, but the unfettered unfolding of personality. A work of art is neither representational nor abstract, figurative or non-figurative, it is unique and sufficient unto itself, palpable in its reality and generating its own life.' ('Group 1890 Manifesto, New Delhi, July 19, 1963', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, March 1995, p. 84)

The Group's Manifesto became central to the manner in which Swaminathan approached his own practice. He felt that the future of modern Indian art had to consider the traditional Indian approach to art which was never meant to 'represent' reality, but rather, it should aim to be a 'poetic rendering of ideal truth'. As such, his career can be seen as a re-exploration of these concepts, beginning with the Colour of Geometry phase, followed by the Bird, Tree and Mountain period, and finally the 'tribal' period.

The current work belongs to the final phase in Swaminathan's career where he absorbs imagery from tribal sources. The triangle, the sun, nagas, calligraphic graffiti and highly textured surfaces are central elements of this last period. Some of the elements draw inspiration from specific folk symbols and legends; others are entirely of Swaminathan's own creation. During a lecture given in 1990, Swaminathan recalls witnessing artists from the hill Korwas of Baladpur being given paper and drawing material for the first time, and his description of the art they created is telling. He states, 'When provided with paper, what they turned out was so unexpected that we were dumbstruck. Instead of making chauwks or animal and human forms or ritualistic symbols, they invariably produced doodles with rudiments of the Dev Nagari script interspersed with animal, human and vegetative forms. Without any written language of their own, they perhaps realised the power of the written word in their contact with the police, the forest guards and the entire oppressive machine, and they were magically invoking it for self protection and for amelioration from their sorry plight.' (Jagdish Swaminathan, 'Pre Naturalistic Art and Post Naturalistic Vision: An Approach to the Appreciation of Tribal Art, Demography of Tribal Development', ibid., p. 56) Perhaps in some ways, Swaminathan's own subconscious doodles and abstracted graffiti are an echo of these forms; the artist's own silent protest against another oppressive machine: the art institutions of India that still only looked West for validation.

Swaminathan's paintings draw 'upon the collective assemblage of myths and symbols in folk, and other subterranean passages of culture that attempted to reach the unknown in a kind of blind intuitiveness. The borrowed image held a certain amount of intrinsic power; the rest he wished to infuse by the particular confluence of elements on the picture plane. The whole became a composition of non descriptive only partly associative images, combined with 'automatic writing', darkly painted upon surfaces, appearing as if they were being seen at the end of a dark passage in a temple.' (Geeta Kapur, 'Reaching out to the Part',ibid., p. 17)

# Import duty at 11% will be charged on the hammer price and GST will be applicable on the total amount of the hammer price plus the import duty.

About The Artist:


₹ 15,000,000.00 ( Low est. )
Lot 40# in The Fine Art Sale including Classical Paintings (M0029)
AUCTION DATE: Jan 21, 2021 at 6:30pm IST



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