At the entrance to the gallery exhibiting the works of Vijay Mohite hung an enlarged text introducing him — “Vijay Mohite belongs to the class of artists who, from their very childhood, are self-willed and follow no master or manner”. Inside, the walls were full of grand abstracts on canvas, their shades and strokes issuing forth the energy of the master who had created them passionately and relentlessly. The exhibition, titled “The Art of Vijay Mohite” took place recently in Delhi and further shows are planned in other cities of India. With the exception of a retrospective in Bhopal last year, this is the first time the artist’s work is being shown in four decades.
In the late ’70s, as his demand peaked, Vijay decided to never exhibit again. The doors to his ancestral haveli in Gwalior were shut to market forces and here, surrounded by animals, birds and acres of wilderness, Vijay spent the remainder of his life sketching and painting. The energy that he bottled up exploded in his works making this untrained painter one of the prominent names in abstracts.
Connoisseurs would have to travel all the way to Gwalior to see his works. Otherwise, only family and friends were privy to it as Vijay painted all over the house, all the time. “The whole house was a studio. He would sit on the floor and paint as the rhythms of regular life ebbed and flowed around him. He was a painter for himself,” says Nandita Singh, Vijay’s daughter, who is bringing his art into the open. The artist died in 2002 at the age of 61.
Vijay never passed through the realism phase and even his landscapes — a giant acrylic on canvas of mountains was displayed — were abstract delineations. Singh says her grandfather, Shankarrao Mohite, a feudal landlord, had saved every scrap of paper that Vijay had drawn or painted on since he was a child. “Even as a child, he was making abstracts,” she adds. Another set of smaller canvases, displayed in a cluster at the exhibition, were made on a spurt at one time. Vijay’s works have neither names nor dates, though Singh can point out the decades in which these were made.
Curator Prayag Shukla writes: “Encountering the works of Vijay Mohite is an experience in itself and each time I have been in front of his paintings, I have been transported to a contemplative ‘space’ and to an ‘area’, which is vibrating and pulsating with creative energy to reckon with. His swirling, and surging strokes, his glowing and mitigant colours, his lines full of verve and dynamism are so captivating and enchanting that one is bound to leave behind the ‘mundane’, of daily life and is sure to encompass a persuasive realm or reality which has been ‘unseen’ so far.”
Vijay’s first exhibition was in 1947, when he was seven and his early confidence is likely to have come from watching the doyens of art and music of the era who were regulars at his home. Shankarrao was a patron of the arts and counted ustads of Hindustani classical music such as Bundu Khan and Alauddin Khan among his friends. A young Ravi Shankar was another regular visitor, as were artists such as MR Achrekar, Manisi Dey and BG Kulkarni. “My grandfather insisted and ensured that his son’s wild imagination remain free rather than fettered by influences or training. But, he did pass on his love for music and the respect for purity of the arts to my father,” says Singh.
Artists’ children are full of wonderful stories and Singh recounts how Shankarrao once woke up his young son early one morning while it was still dark. “Sarangi maestro Ustad Bundu Khan was staying in the house at the time and he would get up at 3 am to do his riyaaz. My grandfather took my father to a spot below the chajja and they stood quietly in the darkness while the Ustad practised. My grandfather believed that it is during riyaaz that a musician’s art is at its purest,” says Singh. As he grew up, Vijay would retain a sense of stringent purity in his work.
Singh adds that Vijay, in keeping with his unfettered mindset, never manipulated her towards art. “I always knew him as my father. As I look at his artwork, I wish I had known him as a painter,” she adds.