Master draughtsman Shiavax Chavda, most well-known for drawing dancers, could always look to his wife, Bharatanatyam dancer Khurshid Vajifdar, for inspiration
The Nehru Centre Art Gallery, which has been regularly showcasing retrospectives of art masters for a quarter of a century, has chosen one of the pioneers of Indian modern art this month: late Mumbai artist and master draughtsman Shiavax Chavda.
In 43 years of marriage, artist Shiavax Chavda and Bharatanatyam dancer Khurshid Vajifdar shared their life – their house and their office – as equals. In their circular workspace in Dhobi Talao, he took up one half as his studio, and she took up the other half to teach dance.
“He would hear a lot of tabla, harmonium and dance sounds: explanations, instructions, children asking questions,” says their daughter Jeroo Chavda. “It was a lively scene for him, because normally when you paint, it’s very solitary and quiet. You’re always by yourself. It added a lot of textures to his [paintings of] dancers. Even his abstracts, everybody says, ‘There’s so much movement in it.’ They’re not static.”
Chavda (1914-1990), an alumnus of Sir JJ School of Art and Slade School of Fine Art, London, had several phases in his four-decade-long career. From paintings of dancers to temple structures, portraits of tribal people to national leaders, from animals to abstracts, he pushed his art and research further and further into the unknown. “He always wanted to progress and evolve,” says Chavda. “He used to say, ‘If I’m stuck in a rut, I will never grow as an artist or as a person.’
His dancers were world-famous. I should not be talking as a daughter, but they used to say, ‘There is no parallel in the world. Nobody has been able to sketch and capture dancers in such precise form.’ Bharatanatyam looked like Bharatanatyam.”
Although, he returned to abstract in the last 20 years of his life. “Because he had done enough portraits, figuratives, scenery, daily life, folk dancers, ballet dancers and Indian classical dancers. He was sent to Nagaland to sketch all the tribes, because they felt Indian missionaries were converting the tribes and they were losing their [way of life]. So, he had sketched everything humanly possible.
He kept saying, ‘I don’t want anyone to say this is my signature.’ Because there were a lot of artists who, you could just recognise them [their work], because of elongated limbs or a tiny head. He said, ‘If that’s the case, you might as well be a photocopying machine. So, how does it inspire me, or move me? My art has to satisfy me first before it goes into the public.'”
At the Nehru Centre, in Worli, this month, a retrospective of his works will give “equal importance to the different phases,” says Chavda. “We have his nudes from London, drawings of temple sculptures, his horse races.” And, his dancers, of course, what with ready inspiration always at home. “My father was on the quieter side; my mother was the more bubbly and effusive one,” she says. “They were very balanced as a couple. Whenever dad did master sketches, he used to lay them out on the bed or the table, and ask us what we thought of it, what we saw in it. They fully respected each other and gave each other a lot of space because they always had this understanding.”
What: Indian Masters’ Retrospective Exhibition: Artist Shiavax Chavda
When: December 21 to January 6
Where: Nehru Centre Art Gallery, Dr Annie Besant Rd, Worli