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Jagdish Swaminathan

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1928, Simla, Himachal Pradesh, India
Died 1994, New Delhi

Jagdish Swaminathan believed in originality, a key element of his work. Known for bringing simplicity, of tribal art and innocence of child on canvas, he used geometrical forms, animals like birds and natural environment creating meaningful visuals. Fascinated with tribal perceptions, symbol, and dominated his canvas in the later years of his life.



Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw


Delhi Polytechnic, New Delhi

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UNDERSTANDING Jagdish Swaminathan

His pictorial language is heavily influenced by indigenous motifs

The artist explored the pictorial possibilities with his imagination, as he broke the traditional norm of ordered coloured geometrical form and brush strokes. Instead he used graphical images, symbols and brush strokes which appear tribal and folkish. His paintings become more layered, highly textured with the use of muted, subtle colours, like pale greens, pinks, mauves, and lemon yellows. Flat colours and arrangement of spaces gave an impression of Indian miniature in his works. His philosophy lied in feeling satisfied with what is known yet unknown. He used a wide range of symbols like the lotus, sun, lingam, swastika and snake. Stepping away from the traditional way of how these symbols were used, Swaminathan would employ informal methods such as scratching the canvas and slapping it with his hand dipped in paint. Taking out symbols from their original context means that they lose their meaning, which allowed the artist to formulate a personalised pictorial language.

The artist also experimented with geometrical shapes, combining triangles, rectangles, and circles in pure colour. Colour Geometry of Space (mid-60s), this body of work suggests the influence of Tantric Yantras. His aim was to be simple so that his art can be absorbed in one glance, but their effect is discharged slowly, over time.

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled (Bird, Tree and Mountain Series), 1980, oil on canvas, 31 1/8 x 45¼”

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, 1993, oil on canvas, 22 x 31.9”

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, 1991, oil and wax on canvas, 57½ x 92¼“

Developed an 'indigenous abstraction' towards the rear end of his life

He formed a deep bond with the tribal art of Madhya Pradesh, a place where incidentally he decided to live for the rest of his physical life. He disregarded the obvious and superficial in art, deliberately enjoying the recluse to understand and enjoy symbolic images. Calligraphy and abstraction frequently overlapped in his works. Symbols become Sign (1992-1993), a new series explored Swaminathan’s version of an indigenous abstraction using materials with a greater metaphoric potency like sand, natural pigments, linseed oil, and beeswax. Applying these with his fingers, in the manner of a traditional artist, it could be said that Swaminathan restored the fractured link between folk and urban art.

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, 1993, oil on canvas, 31.9 x 42.1”

Bridging the divide between art and craft, Swaminathan created his own aesthetic

Late Artist Jagdish Swaminathan showed a whole new direction to Indian Art, based on his own value of understanding indigenous art. His works reflect his mystical bent of mind, his appreciation for nature and symbols, especially in tribal and folk art. He defied conventions and received global recognition for his contributions. He kept the form and freshness intact and introduced Gond Art to the world. He believed that indigenous art is closer to contemporary forms rather than the traditional.

Jagdish Swaminathan​, Untitled (Bird and Tree), 1986, oil on canvas, 31¾ x 45 5/8“

Jagdish Swaminathan​, Untitled (Still Life with Black Ground), aquatint on paper 9¾ x 19½“ plate; 13 7/8 x 23 3/8“ sheet

Establishing a continuum between folk, tribal and urban art

Jagdish Swaminathan’s creative aim was to establish a continuum between folk, tribal and urban contemporary art. Questioning the hold of modern scenarios openly adopted from, or one should say influenced  by the West, his target was to redefine contemporary art by creating a language of his own. Being a political activist, trade unionist, administrator and journalist, he believed in the freedom of society to construct a reality based on myth and magic.

His contribution to Indian art, lies in taking a stand for the Tribal culture and addressing people to work towards its global recognition.

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, oil on canvas, 31 5/8 x 45 3/8”

Elements of nature are depicted in a purely conceptual form

From 1968, Swaminathan started combining elements from nature in conceptual landscapes, mountains, trees rocks, stretches of water and so on. In works like Birds and Mountain series, the paintings are luminous and induce a meditative calm. Suggestive and open to communication they represent an expression of self unity with nature.

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, oil on canvas

Jagdish Swaminathan, Untitled, oil on canvas, 32 1/8 x 44 5/8“