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Monday, Oct 25, 2021
Outlook.com

Pilgrim's Progress

An intense examination of painter Sabavala's 'otherness'

Pilgrim's Progress
Pilgrim's Progress
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

JEHANGIR Sabavala is one of those people who seem elegant in casual clothes, which for him include a carefully knotted cravat. He is by nature courteous and can, on occasion, be dryly witty. The more civilised aspects of western culture are embedded not only in his manners but in his mind; he abhors carelessness and unpunctuality, and believes that one should be concerned for other people. He is now 75, and has been painting for most of that time. The statements and observations made by his paintings are achieved by echoes of experience, by hints and whispers from his palette, by understatement. He is completely unlike any other Indian painter.

Sabavala is also, to my mind, the most distinguished of all living Indian painters. Many poets have been fascinated by his work. At his best, he creates a world and a mythology of his own, as some good poets do. He presents us with nearly barren landscapes, cloud formations above them that admit a white sear of light; in this light, dunes, serrated by wind, spread out towards unclear horizons or mountains that look as though they have never been visited. Somewhere in these landscapes are human figures, hooded and in shroud-like cloaks, who embody the beautiful biblical phrase, "men like trees walking." One cannot really judge whether they are moving at all, and if they are, whether they have a destination, or a reason for their movement. Towards what? And away from whom? None of the canvases will tell you.

Many of his landscapes—even they are devoid of human figures and, with austere emptiness, deny any human existence—are mysterious in that they become alive under his brush: rock becomes flesh, veined with water, eyes open in petrified wood. Sabavala's imagination in recent years has...

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