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Manjit Bawa

"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." - Manjit Bawa
Born in a small Punjabi town of Dhuri in 1941, Manjit Bawa wasn't exactly encouraged to be 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. 
It was Bawa's older brothers who backed him up. He studied fine arts at the School of Art, New Delhi between 1958 and 1963, where his professors included Somnath Hore, Rakesh Mehra, Dhanaraj Bhagat and B.C. Sanyal. "But 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. 
Between 1964 and 1971, Bawa worked as a silkscreen printer in Britain, where he also studied art. "On my return I faced a crisis. I asked myself, 'What shall I paint?' I couldn't be just another derivative of European style of painting." Instead, he found 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. 
The painter has been surrounded by controversies in his life as an artist, the most recent one being accused of forgery by his assistant. Bawa dismisses this one with a mythological story: "There is a tale about a saint being stung by a scorpion he had saved from drowning. Neither diverted from his original character. Neither can take on the other's role." 
For Bawa, drawing is his first love. "I enjoy doing it, for it isn't decorative and loud. One can use minimum essentials to extract the maximum effect," says the artist. "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." 
Manjit Bawa lived and worked out of Dalhouise, Himachal Pradesh, where his studio is, and Delhi, where his family lives.
Manjit Bawa passed away in December 2008.