Wednesday, November 23, 2016




JAGDISH SWAMINATHAN ( 1928-1994) AND OCTAVIO PAZ  ( 1914-1998) ..

“Man does not speak because he thinks; he thinks because he speaks. Or rather, speaking is no different than thinking: to speak is to think.”…….Octavio Paz

I  feel privileged to have seen Jagdish Swaminathan and heard him speak .    He looked like  a Sadhu or Baba .No one could imagine him to be a painter  . He had a Bohemian appearance ;long  unkempt hair, beard ,  wearing Kurta-Pyjama, a Jhola slung across his shoulders, chain smoker , carefree  lifestyle yet a   fine conversationalist. He had enormous knowledge of  world literature and art.  Later, I came to know that he was   among India's foremost modern artists  . I was told that he was also associated with communism for some time but soon felt disillusioned and moved away.

Born in Shimla, he studied painting at the Delhi Polytechnic in  1956 and subsequently at the  Academy of Fine Arts , Warsaw (Poland) .Apart from painting ,Swaminathan wrote poetry and   established  himself as a writer. Jagdish Swaminathan played a major role in contemporary Indian art both as a painter as well as an ideologue. Influenced by rich tradition of tribal art ,Swaminathan  incorporated  a lot of symbols such as the snake, the Lingam, lotus, trident(Trishula,), sun and the Swastika in his paintings. Quite often , he  applied the pigment on to the canvas directly  with  his fingers to achieve the desired effect.   He  also used beeswax, sand, linseed oil and natural pigments as  the mediums to express his creativity.  His paintings reflected his own mystical bent of mind and showed his closeness to the European painter Paul Klee.I vividly remember a news  item that appeared in some  leading national newspapers in 2006.This news   created  sensation in the world of art.  At that time, Jagdish  Swaminathan's work 'Bird and Mountain Series' went for a whopping Rs.25 million at an  art  auction by Triveda.

J Swaminathan as he was known world over, was a close friend of Mexican  poet , author and diplomat  Octavio Paz ( 1914-1998 ) . Paz was also  an anthropologist ,  art critic and  philosopher apart from being an Influential poet. Most of us do not know that Paz was posted as Mexican ambassador to India sometime in 1962 ( 1962-1968 ). Here in India ,he developed a deep and serious interest in Indian Art , literature , Buddhism and  ancient scriptures . All this influenced his poetry later. Read it and you shall come to know what I say. And Among various friends  that  Paz cultivated in India , J Swaminathan remained closest . Paz even wrote a poem dedicated to Swaminathan.Under the influence and encouragement  of Octavio-Paz , Swaminathan started a journal on art called Contra 66. Another person who became closest friend of Paz was  journalist Sham Lal from the  Times of India.The veteran journalist who wrote a weekly literary column in the Mumbai edition of TOI called Life and Letters, was an institution by himself. There is a  loud echo of Indian culture and spirituality in the poetry  of Paz. In 1990,  Octavio Paz was awarded the  Nobel Prize in Literature .Though Paz travelled to India first in 1952, he spent most years when he returned as the Mexican ambassador in 1962. He left in October 1968, resigning from his post in protest against the Mexican government's massacre of student demonstrators at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, the main square of Mexico City.

On art and artist,   J Swaminathan  has said this :-

“ Cultural experiences and activity in India is a multi-level phenomenon - and these levels are often mutually independent and non-interacting - it is the urban and the so-called modern sense of contemporarily that appears to dominate the scene and thus to distort the real perspective.
It would be a misguided belief to expect that an artist could change the whole society within his lifetime. In that case he should give up his work and devote himself solely to bringing about social transformation. Other than the marketplace where else does the artist have a dialogue with society? The easel and the painting will remain an artist's personal property and not the people's and that's the truth. I had very strong romantic inclinations within me. I kept Jigar Moradabadi Saheb in high esteem. I even set out to write his biography.”

This is what Shruti Ramlingaih writes about Jagdish Swaminathan's art:-

" Swaminathan’s versions of recurring nature in a tree, bird, insects are a less frequent result of observational dimensions but results to transform to the realms of mystic. His interest to explore the concept of illusory nature of the manifest world and these concerns informed his paintings frequently in Bird, Mountain and Tree series. He devised pictorial tools to display asymmetrical and detailed versions of mountains in aerial views as a metaphor to reflect on infinity.”

Swaminathan was heavily influenced by folk and tribal art, Pahari miniatures and Indian mythology. In the Bird, Tree and Mountain series he melds together those three aspects, translating both volume and distance onto a flat, uni-dimensional surface, in his attempt to reveal undiscovered forces of nature. Swaminathan’s use of geometric shapes in his work is inspired by Yantras, geometric tantric diagrams that aid in meditation/prayer. Yantras resonated with Swaminathan and other neo-Tantric artists in India in the late twentieth-century, including G R Santosh and Biren De. While neo-Tantric abstractions often employ bold colors and strong lines, Swaminathan’s earthy colors and fluid forms indicate another key influence: tribal and folk art. Swaminathan wrote extensively about indigenous art in India, advocating for rural and tribal artists to be treated as contemporary artists and collaborators, rather than marginalized practitioners of tradition. He discovered Jangarh Singh Shyam, a Gond tribal artist of Madhya Pradesh.

He was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship during 1968-70 . He was also the Founder-Director of Roopankar Museum, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal during the period 1981-90.  He was a member of the International Jury of the Sao Paulo Biennale and served on the board of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

( Avtar Mota )


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