Rajendra Dhawan is held in high regard in the artist fraternity. Akkitham Narayanan, a fellow Paris-based Indian artist, hails him as a “painter’s painter”.
“His works impressed me immensely, sometimes made me jealous of his skills,” he says. “He spoke little, that too very softly, almost silently like his paintings. Silent, yet roaring. At first, his works look like a child’s scribbling but soon they open up. You will be taken up by its mastery, spontaneity and delicate rendering, as if you are journeying through an unknown yet a pleasant universe.” Among his other admirers is the master SH Raza, who not only owned a Dhawan canvas but also made a point to visit his exhibition in 2011 twice.
Born in Delhi in 1936, he studied at the cole des Beaux-Arts in Paris overriding his father’s objection to art. While his father wanted him to secure a government job, Dhawan took to teaching at a college in Phagwara, East Punjab.
As an artist, Dhawan believed in probing his own conscience and painting from his inner eye. “They were not landscapes, they were mindscapes,” says teacher-artist Prabhakar Kolte.
Asserting his significant contribution to Indian abstract art and its ideas, Kolte places him next to such greats as Vasudeo S Gaitonde and J Swaminathan. “Many artists paint what they see, he painted what he sensed. Space, air and other occult things were his enduring themes,” says Kolte.
Tunty Chauhan of Gallery Threshold who represented him in India says Dhawan never cared for the market. “He was truly a monk and that quality is reflected in his art too. Like Mark Rothko or even Gaitonde, his works were an exploration of the higher realm. The use of colour was minimal and yet effusive, often beyond retinal perception, ” she says.
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