Mohan Samant



Not on display

Mohan Samant 1924–2004
Graphite, watercolour, ink and oil paint on paper on canvas and paint and sand on canvas
Support: 772 × 620 mm
Presented by Jillian Samant (Tate Americas Foundation) 2020
On long term loan


Untitled is a small painting in mixed media with paper cut-outs that presents an erotic subject matter. Its central motif, inserted in a shallow niche carved into the surface, consists of a naked man and woman engaging in sexual intercourse, the female subject lying on top of the man clasping his penis while he touches her breast. The reclining pose they adopt recalls the classical representation of erotic themes and their manifold representations within modern art. To the left-hand side is another couple, having sex in a standing position, while larger female figures, to the right-hand side, seem to look onto the scene. At the bottom is another naked female body. The delicacy of the folded papers and paper cut-outs in beige and pastel tones, with which the figures are made, contrasts with the immediacy and dynamism of the surrounding areas of thickly impastoed paint in hues of pink, red and brown.

Like Samant’s works Midnight Fishing Party 1978 (Tate T15430) and In the Beginning there was a Man, a Woman and a Benevolent Ghost 1980 (Tate L04294), Untitled is typical of Samant’s distinctive technique and invented visual language. A heart attack in 1974 and the subsequent time spent in hospital drawing on paper, was a turning point in his artistic renewal; but a formal shift, away from oil on canvas, had already begun in the years that preceded. In the following years until the end of his career, Samant would develop his technique, carving shallow recesses in the canvas and adding ever more complex wirework constructions.

While Samant’s early canvases can be compared to those characteristic of the Progressive Artists’ Group – a defining group for post-independent Indian art founded in 1947 by the painter Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002) and with which Samant was associated in the 1950s – his surreal, playful assemblages are representative of the singular path Samant charted for himself and combine his plural inspirations. In addition to being an artist, he was a lifelong player of the sarangi, an Indian string instrument. Samant redeployed the agility and creative imagination that comes from musical improvisation in his art. Though Untitled attests to Samant’s experimentation with paper relief processes, its intimate subject matter exploits the dynamism and materiality of paint – a medium whose boundaries Samant sought to push throughout his career.

Further reading
Ranjit Hoskote, Marcella Sirhandi and Jeffrey Wechsler (eds.), Mohan Samant: Paintings, Ahmedabad 2013.
Shanay Jhaveri (ed.), Everything we Do is Music, exhibition catalogue, The Drawing Room, London 2017.
Zehra Jumabhoy and Boon Hui Tan (eds), The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India, exhibition catalogue, Asia Society Museum, New York 2018.

Devika Singh
May 2019

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