Had Manjit Bawa not followed his heart he would have been anything but an artist. "My mother would try to dissuade me, saying art was not a means of livelihood. But my spiritual leanings dispelled my fears. I had no qualms. I believed God would provide me with food and I would earn the rest," he says.
But fate had greater thing in store for this Sufi painter.His brothers wholeheartedly supported his artistic inclinations and encouraged him to study art. He decided to enroll himself in the School of Art, where luminaries like Somnath Hore, Rakesh Mehra, Dhanaraj Bhagat and B.C. Sanyal taught.
However, he learnt most of his art from Abani Sen" I gained an identity under Abani Sen. Sen would ask me to do 50 sketches every day, only to reject most of them. As a result I inculcated the habit of working continuously. He taught me to revere the figurative at a time when the entire scene was leaning in favor of the abstract. Without that initial training I could never have been able to distort forms and create the stylization you see in my work today," recalls Bawa.
Manjit Bawa’s Early Career
His first assignment as a profeesional painter was in Britain where he worked as a a silkscreen printer.He would steal time from his assignments to see the works of great masters in museum and study art. After returning to India, Bawa firmly decided that he wont be another derivative of European style of painting . instead, he sought inspiration in Indian mythology and Sufi (school of Islam) poetry. "I had been brought up on stories from the Mahabharat, the Ramayan, 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.
Manjit Bawa’s Paintings
Manjit Bawa Paintins are well known for the vibrant use of colors -the ochre of sunflowers, the green of the paddy fields, the red of the sun, the blue of the mountain sky every hue of this painter’s palette has a different story to tell. He was a pioneer in indian paintings in many respects but his most important contribution to Indian painting is the fact that he paved the way for Indian colors. He consciously avoided the the dominant grays and browns and opted for more traditionally Indian colors like pinks, reds and violet. "We have been bought up on a staple of ochres, grays and browns in art, thanks to the British." points out Manjit.
Nature is Manjit Bawa’s greates inspiration. Birds and animals are a constant presence in his paintings, either alone or in human company. The flute also finds its way into his canvases quite regularly. He has painted Ranjha, the cowherd from the tragic love ballad Heer Ranjha, playing the flute. He has also painted Krishna with a flute.
In his sixties now, Manjit Bawa lives and works out of Dalhouise, Himachal Pradesh, where his studio is.