5 Reasons to Know Modern Artist Mohan Samant

3 months ago

Earlier this summer, Mumbai gallery Jhaveri Contemporary celebrated a new and important milestone. They won the prestigious Frieze Stand Prize in New York, for presenting works by Mohan Samant – “a historically important Indian artist not previously seen by a mainstream audience,” Frieze noted in a statement. A risk, the jury pointed, which ultimately paid off.

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
Kanyadanam (1987), acrylic, oil, paper, and wire on canvas

The gallery put the spotlight on 20th century artist, Mohan Samant (1924-2004), by showing his paintings and works on paper.  As a member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, Samant rubbed shoulders with FN Souza and MF Husain. He lived and worked in New York, where he breathed his last in 2004. If the name doesn’t quite ring a bell, there’s no better time to get to know the underrated legend who paved the way for artists like Atul Dodiya. Here’s why…

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
Untitled (c.1985); wire drawing, pen and ink, and acrylic on canvas,

His style can’t be boxed.

Noted curator Jeffrey Wechsler wrote in his essay that “Samant’s practice was the antithesis of a signature style.” Samant too is claimed to have said: “Neither style nor theme dictates my art. I paint as I please, for I paint for the pure pleasure of painting.” He worked with diverse materials, both high and low. And his practice can be placed at the intersection of sculpture, drawing, and architecture. In his career, he went from making impasto paintings to assemblages that incorporated found objects into his work (hand-twisted wire, readymade toys and such).

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
Untitled (c.1980s-90s); watercolour and paper cutouts on paper

His inspirations were wide ranging too.

They covered a wide spectrum from prehistoric cave paintings and Egyptian funerary wall drawings to Indian miniatures and folk art.

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
Man with a Child in a Chair (1982); mixed media and folded paper on a plastered canvas

He’s exhibited with leading lights.

To quote art critic and curator Ranjit Hoskote, Mohan Samant is an artist who is considered a “missing link in the evolutionary narrative of contemporary art in India”. A member of the Progressive Artists’ Group, he exhibited alongside many of India’s leading artists, including FN Souza, SH Raza, and MF Husain. He’s also showed with the Bombay Group, which included KK Hebbar and KH Ara.

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
River Crossing (1980); mixed media, paper cut-outs

He earned recognition from all quarters.

Mohan Samant graduated from the JJ School of Art in 1952, with the Governor’s prize at the Annual Bombay Art Society Exhibition. 1956 was another stellar year: he was awarded the Gold Medal at the Bombay Art Society’s group exhibition, the Gold Medal at the Calcutta Art Society show, and the Lalit Kala Akademi All India Award. He spent 1957 and 1958 in Rome on a scholarship awarded by the Italian government. He visited Egypt the same year. In February 1959, a Rockefeller fellowship took him to New York City, where he would remain until 1964.

Mohan Samant, Frieze New York, Jhaveri Contemporary. Kanyadan, Modern Artists India, Progressive Artists India
Mime Theatre (1981); cut and folded drawing paper and mixed media on board

He invested in other passions.

In 1968, he returned to New York, and turned his attention to his other great passion – music. The artist and his wife Jillian Saunders, who was an accomplished musician herself, were known to host recitals and concerts in their New York loft too.