Artist to Know: Shanti Dave

Liz Catalano
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Helmuth Stone Gallery Brings Work by Early Indian Abstract Painter

When asked to complete a mural in New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, Indian Modern artist Shanti Dave turned an artistic eye back to his childhood. Dave grew up along the western coast of India in the 1930s. As he painted the mural, he remembered when his village’s local officials allowed his family to stay in their home despite an outstanding debt. The final mural bore traces of this memory and later graced the front page of The New York Times. “It was my happiest experience,” Dave recalled. That honor came after the artist enjoyed solo exhibitions around the world and after he received the prestigious Padma Shri award for his art. 

Helmuth Stone Gallery’s upcoming auction, held on January 3rd, 2021, will feature an oil painting by Shanti Dave completed shortly before his favored airport mural. The bidding will begin live on Bidsquare at 1:00 PM EST. Learn more about Shanti Dave before the auction starts.

Shanti Dave. Image from Dhoomimal Gallery.
Shanti Dave. Image from Dhoomimal Gallery.

Shanti Dave’s childhood in Gujarat informed a decades-long career in the arts. He designed film billboards and banners during his teen years before earning his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in painting from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. As a student, Dave began interacting with N.S. Bendre and a growing group of experimental artists. Now known as the Baroda Group, these artists sought to create an alternative to the nationalist Bengal School. Though their work went unrecognized for decades, members of the Baroda Group helped bridge the gap between Indian and European art movements. 

Dave established himself as a professional painter, gradually moving away from pastoral scenes of the countryside to more abstract compositions. The artist began combining artistic mediums and techniques to create his genre-defining paintings and prints. Dave’s works from the 1960s explore texture with thick coats of oil paint. During this period, he completed the untitled painting coming to auction in January. Offered with an estimate of USD 3,000 to $6,000, the painting reveals an explosion of color. A thin coat of muted red-brown frames the abstract composition and draws the eye toward layered shades of bright yellow, aqua, and red. 

Shanti Dave, untitled oil painting, 1963. Image from Helmuth Stone Gallery.
Shanti Dave, untitled oil painting, 1963. Image from Helmuth Stone Gallery.

After the 1960s, Dave’s style became more daring. He experimented with encaustic, paper pulp, woodblocks, and molds to achieve increasingly complicated textures. Some works employed repeated images, words, or motifs to build an abstract narrative. Occasionally compared to an archeological dig site that is slowly being uncovered, Dave’s paintings invite the viewer to contemplate their emotional meaning and technical execution. 

Dave regularly exhibits with DAG in Mumbai and New Delhi, including a recent 11-month show that ran throughout 2020. However, Dave has long flown under the Western market’s radar. A lack of awareness about the development of Indian Modernism led to a delay in auction representation.

Shanti Dave, untitled oil and encaustic painting, 1968. Image from Sotheby’s.
Shanti Dave, untitled oil and encaustic painting, 1968. Image from Sotheby’s.

Recent sales do show promising signs for Dave’s future as collectors get acquainted with his work. A 1963 oil and encaustic painting titled Man-Sarovar sold for $3,998 at Skinner in 2018, comfortably above its high estimate of $3,000. That painting shares some structural elements with the untitled painting coming to auction in early January with Helmuth Stone Gallery. In Man-Sovar, a thick layer of bright paint is partially obscured by a hazy, neutral background. 

More recently, a Dave painting came under the Sotheby’s hammer. The untitled piece achieved $18,750 in March of 2020 against an upper estimate of $9,000. Many of Dave’s higher-priced works, including those that sell for $50,000 or above, were created in the 1970s. They also bear his signature “archeological” multimedia style. 

As Indian Modernism gains ground in Western markets, collectors and art historians alike are recognizing Dave’s significance. He continues to serve on the Executive Board of the Lalit Kala Academy and in the cultural wing of Delhi’s government. These are fitting roles for a decorated artist who helped launch the Indian Modern art movement. 

Helmuth Stone Gallery will present Shanti Dave’s untitled painting on January 3rd, 2021, at 1:00 PM EST. Explore the full catalog and register to bid on Bidsquare

The upcoming Helmuth Stone Gallery event will also include work by Fernando de Szyszlo and Martin Lewis. Read more in our auction preview. 

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