A painter, best known for abstract modernist paintings that reflect the Neo-Tantra style, Prabhakar Barwe was born in Nagaon, Maharashtra. His father was a sculptor in film studios and his uncle, Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar, was a renowned sculptor; his family’s involvement in the arts was instrumental in shaping his own interest. He went to Sir JJ School of Art and after his graduation, in 1959, he joined the Weavers’ Service Centre, initiated by Pupul Jayakar to encourage artists to collaborate with traditional weavers. He was posted to Varanasi where he encountered Tantric philosophy, which influenced him greatly. Already having turned towards abstraction, he began incorporating symbolic geometric shapes onto his canvases. He also experimented with collages, pop art and Indian folk art. Upon his return to Mumbai in 1965, he continued to work with the Weavers’ Service Centre while developing his style.
While not a practitioner of Tantra, the interest in the subject led Barwe to delve deeper on matters such as that of space and geometric and non-objective forms. Mundane objects such as boxes, leaves, safety pins and fruits entered his expansive and muted frames, imbued with a symbolism beyond their literal and utilitarian value. From the 1970s, he focused on depicting purity in form and colour, making them increasingly austere and his paintings came to be illuminated by the use of glossy enamel paint that rendered an effect similar to that of watercolour. In 1974, along with twelve other artists, he formed a group named “Astitva” that aimed to help the members financially for the costs of exhibiting their work. However, the group was later dissolved due to ideological differences.
Barwe’s work was exhibited widely at institutions such as Jehangir Art Gallery (Mumbai, India), Vadehra Art Gallery (New Delhi, India), Lalit Kala Akademi (New Delhi, India), New York University (USA), Hirshhorn Museum (Washington DC, USA), 9th Biennale International (Chile), and 5th International Young Artists’s exhibition (Japan), among others.
Barwe received several accolades throughout his career. He was awarded the prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi award in 1976 for his painting Blue Cloud. He received awards from Academy of Fine Art in Kolkata in 1963, the Bombay Art Society in 1964 and 1968, and the Maharashtra State Award in 1971. Barwe also published a book in 1990, called Kora Canvas, which documented his creative process.
He passed away in Mumbai, following prolonged illness, in 1995.
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