“Astitva” by Prabhakar Barwe (1936-1995) at the NGMA is about an odyssey in reverie – dulcet images of forms that celebrate the illuminating illusions of space, recreating the language of the mundane and bringing it forward to the islands of memory. The viewer can choose between being either suspended in the oscillation of time or transfixed in the depths of understanding the rudiments of revealing abstraction through objects.
The title recalls a note by Barwe’s friend and artist Lalita Lajmi: “Prabhakar Barwe was a dear friend of mine and a painter who combined a poetic approach to art with an analytical mind. Together, we formed a group called ‘Astitva’, meaning ‘Existence’. I used to visit his studio – a tiny room filled with his canvasses – in Girgaon, near Gamdevi Temple, very often. He was so profound, always brilliant in his ideas; a unique artist, with unique works.”
Space and form
Those words form the fulcrum of this suite of works. To look at the cluster of drawings as well as paintings is to be drawn into a synthesis that essays analogies of space as important as form, whether defined by forms or not.
Barwe once stated that when space becomes as eloquent as form, the imagery of the painting turns gainful in meaning. When you look at his works from the ‘80s, you understand that space and form must have a dialogue with one another. Barwe elevates the subject as well as the object, and transforms the canvas into a vehicle that invites viewers to examine their own experience of the material world.
What ascends the upper reaches of the mind are Barwe’s choice of subjects. They are varied but offer a genteel insight into his working. Explaining his choice of subject matter, years ago, Barwe wrote: “However ordinary or commonplace it may look at first sight, if it is based on self experience and if it springs directly from the heart, it becomes self evident, a valid aesthetic experience in a work of art.”
Barwe’s choice of subjects also affirm his understanding of the conceptual devices of surrealism as he placed a series of simple objects and ephemeral shapes in a atypical compositions. Paintings for Barwe were about arranging a few isolated forms on canvas, and giving each form its own right to existence, without disturbing all the other adjacent forms/objects.
As an artist, Barwe believed in the power of the visual experience, created by concrete components which he synthesised within his own language of continuing abstraction.
Indeed these paintings illustrate his sensibility and his explorations in the sparseness of intensity and intention. Perhaps making it an embodiment of abstraction being “like a thought-free space of the mind, or like an undivided, unruffled mental state”. You walk away remembering Barwe’s words: “My effort is to examine how and where the concrete and the abstract meet in the course of such journeys.”
(“Astitva” is on display at the NGMA, New Delhi, till July 28)