It is not possible to simply glance at one of Natvar Bhavsar’s large canvases and then move on. The deep, pure colours seem to beat with life and compel one to linger a little longer. The DAG Modern in Mumbai is currently hosting “Homecoming”, a major retrospective of the artist’s works. These are not dead canvases, splashed and streaked with paint and then left to hang inertly on walls. In each work, the viewer senses a rhythm, a movement that is as discernible as in a piece of music. Not that Bhavsar wants to be prescriptive about how to look at or even think about his work. “I’m not making them to serve society,” he says, “I paint to serve my soul, and so I don’t worry about how it is viewed. In painting these, all I have done is draw people to examine them and open up their souls. So everyone finds their own meaning in my work.”
This is the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in India. Bhavsar says that he had “yearned” for this occasion for a long time. “I’ve known almost everyone in India’s intellectual and artistic circles for many years and many, like Tyeb Mehta, have also visited me in New York. But somehow, a show on a large scale has never worked out until now,” he says, when we meet him at the gallery.
Still, Bhavsar believes there is a time and place for everything. “And I have always been in the right place at the right time,” he says, chuckling, “In a sense, everything was brought to me to march onwards.” The artist perhaps errs on the side of modesty, but there’s no doubt about the remarkable journey he had made from the village of Gothava in Gujarat, where he was born in 1934 into a family of educators and textile hand-printers, all the way to the glamorous and revolutionary cultural and artistic landscape of New York City in the 1960s.