critiques & essays

an inward attunement,

Keshav Malik, art critic

Manav Gupta’s art, facing both forwards and inwards, is a contemplation of spiritual and the natural communion. And so, his images act as a vehicle of a visionary world that is itself the instrument of self-transcendence. His disposition is towards invoking the inner world of the soul as the stage of divine imminence. His work has undergone  much development. The maturation is palpable.

Working in a wide range of installations, watercolors, acrylics, oils,sculptures and multi media, he puts the medium to fresh creative tasks. Technically, as far as color and light goes, he is highly professional. Moreover he has a precise understanding of color as the language with which nature tries to communicate meanings and values. For him color is a function of sight- implying a sun- like quality in the eye.

Here then is a silent discourse on the music of colors. In this way, visually he works out notes and scales to produce melody and harmony. One can follow Manav’s development from color harmonies of great refinement even in his earlier work- on to a progressive liberation of light from the object, or perhaps the resolution of the object into light. The artist has come to understand light as that from which the objects we see are made.

Informed by profound intuition Manav’s pictorial language emerges from and surmounts the creative process to exist objectively. It is then that the instrument of a level experience that is communicable in terms that relate to the knowledge and wisdom of the inwardly attained. The artist’s technical know how, as a colorist, is not deployed for its own sake, but because his technique has its own meditative content.

Thus, and in sum, here is evidence of a self-spiritualizing imagination, and wherein the painter is trying to integrate such wholes of experience as bring about our union with the essential reality. Through his external senses the painter is able to perceive the visible world. Through his internal senses he tries to perceive the microcosm, including the twin level of body and soul. The painter has a message to deliver to his ordinary self—a message concerning our deepest being. It means an awakening to a more elevated plane of living.

Finally, his “umbilical chord-rainforest” symbolizes an epiphany of the   universe continually opening up from sacred source, the centre of the birth of life. An epiphany of which it is both an expression and symbol

exploring earth’s elements,

Uma Nair, art critic

From probing the first principles of nature and thought, Manav’s art is about nature’s pre-eminence and earth’s universal truths. “Man’s existence, needs to align with the larger cosmic matrix,” says Manav. The physical interface of global warming, Man’s interference with earth’s natural ecosystems, disregard to environment consciousness by Man has all impacted the artist deeply over the years. What is enticing is that he dips his brush deep into his intrinsic romanticism, puts it in context through his deep rooted faith and psyche of Indian spirituality and translates it all on his canvas in the language that’s metaphysical.

Recently, in the artist’s creative journey, the influence of the present socio-cultural metamorphosis, where moral fabrics are eroding at the altar of manipulative social matrices and blatant consumerist environment is adding new dimensions to his art. It seems the protagonists of his canvas seek to break away from the shackles of this web towards “light” that is “hope”.

His watercolours sold out last year and he spoke about the process of his sensibility that awakens the nature lover in us.

“As I scrape the bottom of the soul for some ingredients the only way I can explain to myself, about what it all is, is to believe that in some past life (if there is one), I belonged to the rainforests. The mantra there, for survival, is to submit to the natural forces, bow before it, respect its ways, learn and grow. You cannot defy it or go against it. In the rainforests there are labyrinthine darknesses weaving around you but there is always light in streaks, in a glow, in a stream, sunlight…all of which brings hope. You don’t bathe in it all the time but it seeks you out. Man is but a speck. The human race, still a speck, in this mighty universe rich with millions of secrets. The rainforests teach you this,” he states. Is painting then a transcendental experience? Far away from the madding crowds of monetary markets?

“When I paint, what transcend on the canvas are the hope and the power of the eternal truths of nature’s emblematic symbols,” he says. Adding, “Light, for me is — Hope and Colour — the Universe in which it exists.”

This is when, for him, this world loses its meanings. The larger one takes over and he paints.


manav gupta is a natural,

Kingshuk Mukherji, senior journalist

He is not what you traditionally know as an artist. An alumnus of Presidency College, Kolkata, Manav picked up the paint brush as a child in the serene, sylvan surroundings of National Library, Kolkata. In that sense, therefore, this young artist lived and grew up in the lap of heritage. He always had a restless heart, one which died to try out things. And he would…

Even as he made this journey, the canvas was never far away and the brush strokes matured. He studied painting under Shri Vasant Pandit, an unsung master. Manav often recalls how mesmerized he’d be as his guru would talk to him for hours. Manav’s parents took him to the master when he was a toddler, barely two years of age. Even at that tender age, the Master created an indelible impression on him. And from that day, till the time Manav left the city of his birth for Delhi, the Guru and his shishya vibed. They talked endlessly and painted together. It was as if two souls were tied in one string….

Today, Manav has grown manifold. His art has taken him to the zenith. He’s a name the world recognizes. All this because he’s spontaneous. His art comes from within. It has nothing to do with formal training. “My art is what I am. What I perceive. And what I look forward to. My art is my heart beat.” There have been critics who’ve praised him for his technique. But more often than not, what he has created has been the result of a storm within. His brush strokes have followed the dimensions of those restless stirrings. He is as close to nature as possible. All that he does come from deep within .There’s nothing cosmetic about what he feels or what he does.”

Truly. For, Manav’s quality isn’t just about a genius. It’s about how he feels and the shades of blue he seeks in the sky through his eyes. It’s about the grit and struggle of a man from   humble circumstances. It’s about a man who hasn’t grown up breathing tinned air. It’s as easy as the flow of a deep river that meanders through a landscape and runs off to an unknown destination where it meets the horizon.

Manav is a product of nature. Hence, his love for the trees. Manav is about perception. Hence, his fetish for eyes.

Manav is Manav. Unique as ever.


from a Garden in Calcutta,

Patricia Groves, cultural theologist, Oman

A child grew up in a horticultural garden in the heart of Calcutta. There, in the enchanted world of plants and flowers, the small child would run and play – and paint. That child is now one of India’s top contemporary artists.

There is a web-like, diaphanous quality to Manav Gupta’s watercolors; ephemeral shapes are caught in shafts of colored light. A bird perches momentarily on an invisible branch. It does not seem like the bird will flyaway; but it could disintegrate into the forms from which it was made; or slip into spaces between colors.

I am lost in a crowd of people who have come to the exhibition on opening night and I am not taking notes; but I am listening to what is said.

Manav Gupta does not give maddening answers like the painting is what the viewer sees in it. Instead he is eager to share his vision, to enfold those who come, in the coordinates of his dreams. He rides along on words, images and music, taking the unspoken language of his paintings into films and performances

This artist sees painting in a cascading vortex of rhythm, voice and dance. By painting to the cadence of poetry, the motion of dance and the exhilaration of music, Manav feels that he can encompass the scent, the spirit of the performing arts in image, on canvas … that this is a step toward a more universal and multidimensional concept of painting in our strange, modern world of colliding sensory stimulation.

Who is this man who would, if he could, hold the whole world in his hands? I will not answer in the enviable superlatives of the critical press to date; or dwell on his creative empathy with the former President of India as· expressed in their illustrated volume of poetry, Life Tree; or overly remind you that he has sold at Christies…

Instead I will go back to the garden. One day, young Manav had to leave the garden to help his mother raise his little sister through difficult times. It was only when his sister was safely married that Manav could devote himself to his art – which he did heart and soul, like a lover finally re-united with the long-time object of his desire.

Manav Gupta has the passion and drive of the once-thwarted visionary; he holds close the undaunted dream of the garden of innocence he left too soon, the Lost Paradise which he recreates every day with his paint brush.


Manav Gupta & His Art,

Sushma Bahl, Curator

The artist plays with colour to build a texture and create well composed imagery. The palette in terms of its choice, mixing and rendering is built progressively to achieve a refined harmony and tonal quality that emanates a subtle light that heightens the visual appeal. There is a melody in his play of colour- be they passionate reds, cool greens, burning yellows or sedate indigos together with sombre pastels or rich earthy tones, though his monochromatic works are equally engaging.

A multi talented artist, Manav is deft not just at painting and drawing but also at sculpting and making installations using a range of materials and methods. A designer, environmentalist and poet, he has also worked in numerous jugalbandis (performance art) with other artists across art forms- music, dance, science and literature.  A man of many parts the young artist’s repertoire includes work on films, art workshops, book illustrations besides social and humanist initiatives. Working consistently over the last 16 years the artist’s creative oeuvre reflects a genteel touch emanating from his child hood days spent in culture soaked Kolkata. Exploring nuances of light and colour in delicate strokes, his nature inspired paintings create a poetic nuance and serenity around his creations.

Where forms and figuration enter into the artist’s creative arena, they follow a rhythmic pattern and absorb the viewer in a silent discourse as his shapes though ephemeral and imaginative turn alive and holistic. The location and rendering of his portraiture are important elements that give his compositions their distinct appearance, while his encounters with performing arts leave their footprints on his canvases inundated with sensory delight. “The answer lies somewhere in connecting with the larger cosmos where the energy lies. Even as that communion triggers the urge to dip into the soul and pour it out on the canvas one is possessed by energy that takes over as I paint” says the artist.

The spontaneity, the poetic and the lyrical in this philosopher-poet-­painter’s work makes the eternal beauty of nature come alive in his water colours, while the celestial charm of the cosmic is featured in some of his painted canvases. His mixed media work on paper recall his roots in Bengal art and miniature traditions of India while the sensual and personal gets reflected in his figurative work. The sculptures and installations incorporate an ideological slant with a contemporary interpretation. Together Manav Gupta’s work makes a feast for the eye and the heart.

Manav Gupta’s “unsung hymns of clay“

Pavan K Varma, author, diplomat, cultural commentator

Manav Gupta represents the artistic search for an authentic medium that is deeply rooted in the cultural ethos to which he is born. Exceptionally talented, especially in the startling, ingenious use of colour and light, Manav lives to push the horizons of expression without comprising the delicate aesthetic sensibility that is the hall mark of artistic fulfilment. I have known his work and his endeavours for many years now, and have been struck by his continuous effort to experiment with new forms of creativity, be it performance art in concert or his lyrical but powerful works on nature and forests.

His most recent work ‘Unsung hymns of Clay’ has made a particularly strong impact on me. It represents the ability of imagination to combine with a symbol in a manner that is at once emotionally magnetic and resonant of the smell of the soil. The earthen lamp is a part of every home in India. It is a utilitarian vessel at one level, but a powerful vehicle of reverence at another.
Its simplicity is breathtaking, but its meaning is multi-dimensional. It is easily accessible to all, and yet redolent with complexity. It is, perhaps, the one symbol that every India can identify with, and yet often, for this very reason almost taken for granted.
Manav has elevated this humble piece of clay to an artistic pedestal with remarkable finesse. For him it is the bridge between the individual and the divine. It is prayer incarnate, yearning personified. It represents the soil, mother earth, the compact with nature. Its very fragility is a pointer to both the environmental crisis we are facing and the need to do something about it.
Its versatility is a reminder that often the most beautiful things are part of our daily lives in a myriad ways and yet we are not conscious of the vibrations that imbue it. I am normally always a trifle sceptical about installation art. While some examples of this art are genuinely of calibre, many are about shock-impact and sterile gimmicry. Manav’s latest creation proves my scepticism wrong. By simply but imaginatively inverting the earthen diya he has created a work of art that cannot but deeply influence you. I was particularly struck by how he uses this clay vessel to show the plight of receding rivers, the shrinking domain of one our greatest natural assets, the unspeakable pollution and neglect of the Ganga, a river revered since the dawn of time by all Indians. One cannot stand before his installation and not be seized by an array of emotions, which taken together make a deep emotional impact, and sifted apart are about the earth, prayer, nature, rivers, human search and divine benediction.
I wish that more and more people see this installation and pause in the midst of their many preoccupations to absorb the beauty and symbolism of what he has created.