Jehangir Sabavala represented a culture of refinement that seems to be fast waning in Mumbai. Immaculately dressed, gracious to a fault and generous with his time, he was a gentleman artist always curious about the transforming world of arts and ideas.
Born in 1922 and educated at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai and at academies in London and Paris, Sabavala was unswervingly loyal to his style, much to the dismay of critics who thought he was locked in a prison-house of limited flourishes that admitted no change. Sabavala, however, constantly stressed the inexhaustibility of forms — he strove to plumb them with focus and rigour. He did this for sixty long years.
Beginning his journey at a time when the Progressive Artists’ Group was changing the face of Modern art in post-Independence India, Sabavala ploughed a lonely furrow. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, he employed Cubist forms and techniques to limn landscapes imbued with shifting radiances — his mountainscapes and riverscapes, with hooded mendicants and itinerants, always seemed to carry a touch of mystery.
His figures, more often than not, seemed caught in intense interior meditations.
You could not think of two artists more dissimilar than MF Husain and Jehangir Sabavala — they did not quite agree with each other’s approach, manner and temperament.
Ironically, however, their deaths within months of each other, add up to create a strange shared space of loss.
(Sardesai is the Mumbai-based editor of ART India, a leading visual arts magazine in the country)