Untitled | New York, Rockefeller Plaza | oil on canvas | 91.1 x 121.9 cm.
“He had little patience with narrative or didactic paintings, no matter how well they were painted. For him they lacked the mysterious realms of poetry. […] His structures were elemental, uniquely his own.”
Krishen Khanna, artist
Jagdish Swaminathan believed that art belonged to the realms of freedom and the imagination—that true art is reality; it does not translate nor recreate reality and it does not aspire to represent or narrate life. As he has written, “The face of art is somewhat like that of the sun. It does not communicate but gives.”
His early works include many robust paintings and drawings of figurative subjects. Over time, he evolved toward abstraction. Underlying his oeuvre is a deep spiritual reverence that seeks to reveal truth through nature. In the late 1960s and 1970s, following his The Colour Geometry of Space series, where he explored flat geometric planes of color, he began combining elements from nature in his conceptual landscapes. Embracing the metaphorical quality of the surrealists while preserving the formal qualities of Indian miniature painting, he juxtaposed mountains, trees, rocks and animals against pure expanses of color. The meditative stillness they induced became the artist's obsession.
Swaminathan was born in Simla, India, and pursued an art education at the Delhi Polytechnic; afterward, he won a scholarship to study graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts, in Warsaw, Poland. In 1962, Swaminathan became one of the founding members of the Group 1890, and wrote its manifesto. By the late 1960s he had gained recognition as an important Indian painter, and was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship in 1968. In addition to his numerous solo exhibitions, Swaminathan’s work was included in the Tokyo Biennale in 1965, and the first International Triennale India, in 1968. The following year he was chosen as an international jury member for the São Paulo Biennale. He died in 1994.