Hailed as India’s Renaissance Man, Satish Gujral defied any constraints of disciplinary in the arts. He was a painter, an architect, a muralist, a writer, and a sculptor par excellence.
Born in 1925 in a town in present-day Pakistan, the artist met with an accident when he was a child that led to him developing a hearing disability. Years later, he would also experience the worst of humanity as his family was displaced amidst violent riots during the Partition of India and Pakistan. These formative experiences led to his works being focused on the fragility of humans, be it through his sculptures depicting the non-permanence of time or his evocative paintings. Along with many international and national awards, the artist was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan Award in 1999, the second-highest civilian honour in India. Sadly the world lost the genius in March of 2020, but was left with the towering legacy of his inimitable works. Even though it’s impossible to narrow down, we’ve managed to highlight five of his most iconic works across the different mediums he excelled in…
The Partition Paintings
The artist’s record of the desperate anguish and sorrow of the people displaced during the 1947 Partition is one of the first works of art to depict the horrific tragedy. Gujral depicted the ravages of riots and violence he witnessed firsthand in his paintings through figures of fleeing women and an all round sense of despair. This series of paintings earned him the title of ‘genius’ by art critics of the time and were featured as a subject in many documentaries on the Partition.
Embassy of Belgium
The multi-faceted genius was the brains behind the beautifully designed Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi which was named as one of the 1000 best buildings built in the 20th century by the International Forum of Architects. This was his first large-scale commission. The building featured his characteristic domes and wire-cut red bricks in the design along with his propensity for a sense of theater with his creations. The site features a pleasing mix of open and private spaces that make it truly unique.
The Alphabet Mural
One of the biggest turning points in Gujral’s life was the 1952 scholarship that allowed him to study at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Here he apprenticed under renowned Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros. The lessons he learned here revitalised his belief that art should be an instrument for social change and should therefore, be available in public spaces. This led to his affinity towards creating memorable murals, like the ones situated outside the Delhi High Court.
Eternity: Echoes of Nandi
Along with being an artist and an architect, Gujral was also a master sculptor, whose works usually centered around the concept of the past, the present, and the future. HELLO! India was honoured to play host to one of his most iconic sculptures at the recently held HELLO! India Art Awards. You can listen to why the sculpture is one of the most special ones in his daughter Raseel Gujral’s own words right here:
A Brush With Life
In a truly poignant retrospective, Gujral’s biography A Bush With Life seeks to capture the extraordinary life and the person behind the iconic works of art. Over 10 chapters, he takes the reader through his childhood, his experiences during the Partition, his early education in art, and his subsequent accomplishments. It’s truly worth a read.