He did not live in the city but New Delhi’s society ladies courted him nevertheless — the bearded, Sufi-like painter whose bright, flat-coloured canvases and strangely evocative animals and gods may have initially jarred their sensibilities — and he was a hostess’s delight with his mystic ways.
He might sing, he might dance, he might extend an invitation to his family hotel in Dalhousie…or he might even paint.
In the eighties, he was a decorator’s painter whose palette was blended or contrasted with interior spaces and upholstery. In the nineties though, he was more firmly entrenched — his works ended up in Delhi’s snobbish galleries, in group shows around the country, and in solos. But he was maverick, likely to renege on his promise on schedules, given to quoting poetry, or cooking, instead.
Earlier this month, two of his Untitled works sold at a Saffronart auction for Rs 42 lakh and Rs 22.6 lakh [USD 86,000 and USD 46,000]; still earlier in the year, when recession was yet to become a dirty word, a Bawa canvas had fetched Rs 47 lakh [USD 96,000]. But these were still rare works on sale in an art market where his works were being hoarded rather than auctioned.
For the 67-year-old artist had been in coma with a brain hemorrhage for the last three years, and collectors as well as galleries were holding on to his canvases with prices expected to gain should he not survive his last outing to — ironically —an art show: he collapsed in the car on the way back, and never recovered.
He might have been pleased to see the prices his oils were fetching — upwards of Rs 20 lakh in the last few years, a huge jump from the Rs 2-5 lakh highs he celebrated, for Bawa, for all his other-worldliness, knew that success and price were interchangeable but not exclusive to each other.
He wooed his collectors, enjoyed his celebritydom, but tired of it easily to escape to Dalhousie where he would often wander off on long walks into the Himalayas.
Born in 1942 in Punjab, he was a student of the Delhi College of Art before going to London to get a diploma in silk screening; he worked in that city from 1967 to 1971 as a silk screen printer, returning to Delhi where success eluded him initially.
By the mid-eighties, he was a regular on the art circuit; earlier this century, he was already fighting the applause, retreating from it, tiring easily, fading away.
He was robbed of dignity in his last years, but his gods and animals will live on as he becomes the next big icon in his Sufi haven.
[Currency conversion from http://www.kshitij.com/utilities/LnCtoMnB.shtml].