The evolution of both content and form in Bhalchandra Mandke’s paintings reflects his own journey through a life of creative expression and the concomitant soul-seeking that is the main driving force behind the uncompromising pursuit of art. Little wonder then, that today, Mandke’s oeuvre extends wide across a diverse range of themes and compositions.
In his own words, his early paintings, predominantly water colours, depict the simple, rustic scenes of rural India where he grew up as a child. The innocent simplicity and an unhurried pace of village life infuse these early landscapes with an earthy, rustic charm that is so characteristic of the Indian countryside. Other paintings depicting men, women and children engaged in their day to day chores and occupations bear a matching sense of calm.
His move to the city of Pune heralded a new phase in Mandke’s life, whence his paintings gradually shifted to more introspective themes which naturally lent them more to oil and acrylic than to water as the medium of choice. He began with semi-abstracts and portraits and gradually moved towards almost fully abstract compositions.
Several of his semi-abstract paintings portray recurrent themes such as boats, clusters of semi-urban houses and most unmistakably, the full moon. Devoid of human subjects, many of these paintings exude a sense of tranquility with the distant moon which on one hand, seems like a detached observer of the scene below while serving as a distinct focal point to the composition, on the other. Bold deep Red is by far, the most dominant colour in most of these paintings, supported ably by ochre, white and blue, and occasionally even shades of green.
Then there is a series of paintings depicting social groups of subaltern background, particularly groups of women, which harks back to the painter’s rural lineage only with a more personal appeal. The subjects of most of these works appear serene and nonchalant, seemingly confident in their demeanor while relating to their peers in the community and to other elements in their environment, quite in contrast to the anxiety-ridden world of modern-day techno-industrial societies. It is perhaps for this reason that these paintings serve as a soothing palliative to the fast-paced urban viewer, reminding him/her that there is much more to life than continually escalating its speed.