The late Jehangir Vazifdar created more than 10,000 paintings and sketches. He, however, never sold a single piece. “If I start thinking about whether someone will buy my work, I’ll start painting according to what they might like,” he told his son, Phiroze.
Jehangir, who died in 2011, had never wanted to put a price on his work. So when Abby Grey, the well-known art collector and founder of the New York University’s (NYU) fine arts museum, came to the Bombay of 1968 and fell in love with his work, she was unable to buy a piece no matter how hard she tried. In the end, succumbing to her nagging, Jehangir gifted her a painting. A self-portrait, it now hangs alongside paintings by FN Souza, MF Husain, Krishen Khanna, Somnath Hore, Mohan Samant and Krishna Reddy at NYU’s Gallery of Art.
Jehangir was not the typical struggling artist; he didn’t need to sell his work to support himself. He managed a successful architecture business, and built some of the most iconic buildings in South Bombay, such as Palm Springs, Cuffe Castle, and the Breach Candy Apartments. But his buildings, which are traditional residential spaces, are miles away from his innovative, contemporary paintings that he drew with Picasso as his inspiration. They encompass many different styles — from felt-pen sketches to abstract oil paintings.
As he told Phiroze, “In my profession, I have to keep pleasing people to make money. The studio is the one place where I’m a free man”. But the fact that he did not sell any of his work is the reason that he is not well-known. “The price of art determines its quality in this society. If it has never been sold, then people will not think it was worthy of selling”, says Phiroze.
By holding an exhibition of his father’s work at the Taj Mahal Palace at Apollo Bunder in Mumbai and compiling relevant news clips, descriptions, and pictures of his art in a book titled Jehangir Vazifdar – Artist & Visionary, Phiroze hopes to change this impression. “I don’t want people to think he was just any ordinary man who liked to dabble in art. I want to show people that he was exceptional,” says Phiroze.
The opening of the exhibition and launch of the book will take place on March 14 which is also Jehangir’s birthday. After March 17, Vazifdar’s pieces will be moved back to his old office and studio at the Corinthian Building in Colaba, where they can be viewed on request.