His is a career spanning six decades but what is immeasurable is his contribution to Indian modernism. Yet, India’s first major abstractionist Shanti Dave is startlingly simple and unassuming even in the light of his colossal repertoire of artworks that range from figuration to abstraction.
The use of script infuses a reverberating energy into his works in which colours cavort. “The genesis of the script that you see in my paintings lies in my experience as a signboard artist. I was a signboard painter in Ahmedabad, and my interest in calligraphy was born then. I have been fascinated with ‘script’ for the longest time. What is language? What is its power? I’m trying to understand that even now,” muses Dave as DAG brings his first-ever retrospective from New Delhi to Mumbai. The exhibition will subsequently travel to foreign shores.
There have been many firsts in his gleaming career: from the skilful employing of script in his artworks to bringing in the encaustic technique: A wealth of worlds traversing through enamel,
adhesive and sand on plywood, oil paints on masonite board, and encaustic on canvas in earthy colours. Why the fascination with script? “A beautiful, calligraphic alphabet is a visual expression and that could be a reason why artists engage with it,” explains Dave. “Seen in isolation, it is pretty. That is all. By itself, it does not have any meaning but when it starts partnering and pairing with other letters, one can find meaning. However, these are meanings created by man. So, in a way, akshar bhi bhram hain (script, too, is an illusion). Akshara is a mere illusion that contains neither earth nor sky; despite being an illusion, it is alive on its own strength.”
“From his early figurative works to his segueing into abstraction and his beeswax…
A compulsive, non conformist wordsmith. A sybaritic connoisseur of all 'tis epicurean. An insatiable sybarite. An incurable book-chomper. For me, there is nothing more powerful than the excitement of shaping the written word. I simply live to write.