By Rebecca Lerner
Natvar Bhavsar’s paintings are stuck to the walls of New Brunswick’s Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum only in the most technical of senses; they somehow manage to transcend their earthly confines and surround the viewer.
One does not merely look at a Bhavsar work, one is transported by it.
It is as if the artist has bottled up the night sky, dusted it in powder pigment and cast it out in great dreamlike bursts. The result is a textured canvas that pulses with dimension: grainy up close, smooth and wispy from afar.
“What I have done is to enter the world of color,” Bhavsar said. “When I paint, I enter the realm of experience, which gives me that feeling the word “nirvana’ may have been invented for.”
Bhavsar, an abstract expressionist, is the most successful Indian artist in the American art world today. Ninety-five percent of his fans — those who can afford the $15,000 to $800,000 pricetags on his work — are of Western descent.
The titles of his paintings, chosen for their melodic effect, are Sanskrit words referring to natural phenomena, such as comets and rain. Their colors, impossibly rich hues of crimson, indigo and gold, evoke the essence of their inspiration.
“What I have done is to bring you to be with it and try to experience it as an aura of a sort,” Bhavsar said.
Bhavsar was born in the 1930s into a wealthy and highly educated Guajarati family. His father was the village headmaster and encouraged him, at age 7, to teach Untouchables how to read and write. He became an excellent student and achieved prominence as an artist in India by age 19, working primarily in the Cubist vein until his move halfway across the world in 1962.
In New York City Bhavsar was deeply influenced by the open-ended spirituality surrounding abstract painting. He found himself at the center of the avant-garde world; he was spending time with such prominent artists as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Bhavsar was the first artist to have a gallery show in what was to become SoHo, at the Max Hutchinson gallery.
Now age 73, with nearly 900 completed works, Bhavsar has no plans to retire.
“A thousand years,” he said, “would not be enough to fulfill this incredible hunger for exploration.”
“Natvar Bhavsar: The Dimensions of Color,” is on display at the Zimmerli Art Museum through July 22. It is the first part of a three-year program called the South Asian Regional Initiative, or SARI.