He started taking evening classes at the Delhi Polytechnic, Kashmere Gate, where he trained under artists Sailoz Mukherjee and Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal.
After schooling in Delhi, Jagdish Swaminathan joined a pre-medical course, but he left the course as well as his home when ran away to Kolkata. He started taking evening classes at the Delhi Polytechnic, Kashmere Gate, where he trained under artists Sailoz Mukherjee and Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal. However, his art study didn't last long as he couldn't manage the stress of working during the day, attending art classes in the evenings at the same time.
In Kolkata Jagdish Swaminathan did some odd jobs to earn living. However, he returned to Delhi and joined the Congress Socialist Party and also appointed sub-editor of a Hindi short story magazine, and subsequently as an editor of Mazdoor Awaz magazine, eventually joining the Communist Part of India in 1948.
In 1957, he joined the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Upon his return to India in 1960, he held his first major exhibition, displaying his graphic prints and oil paintings, along with artists P.K. Razadan and N. Dixit. By the end of 1960s, he had left journalism to take up art full-time.
A major contribution by Jagdish Swaminathan was that he helped vernacular painters from tribes like Gond and Bhil to gain international recognition. In 1981, Swaminathan discovered a young gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam painting on the mud walls of his house, who became the first known modern Gond artist.
Recognizing the potential of his talent, Swaminathan took him to the city and held painting exhibitions where Shyam’s paintings were exhibited. Soon, Shyam gained international recognition and his paintings were displayed in the art exhibitions of Japan, UK and US. He also played an important role in the formation of Bharat Bhawan, amuti art complex in Bhopal, established in 1982, and the collection of tribal art at its art museum.
Likewise, Swaminathan pondered over the tribal culture and throughout his life he kept on addressing the people and tried to give the tribal expression a proper place in the global art and cultural fora. As an artist and a man of institutions he kept on guiding people from all walks of life who value culture and human endeavor in wider perspective. Throughout his career, Swaminathan held about 30 solo exhibitions and participated in numerous national and international exhibitions, before his death in 1994. In 2007, an “Untitled” work by him was auction at the Christie's for $312,000.
Untitled (Tribal Abstract)
Bird, Tree and Mountain
Red and Yellow with Bird
Untitled (Bird, Tree & Mountain)
The Tree, the Bird, the Shadow
Journey - I
Untitled (Lily by my Window)
The Sign and the Altar
Untitled (Bird, Tree & Mountain Series)
He was a member of the Communist Party of India.
"Cultural experiences and activity in India is a multi-level phenomenon – and these levels are often mutually independent and non-interacting – it is the urban and the so-called modern sense of contemporarity that appears to dominate the scene and thus to distort the real perspective."
“The face of art is somewhat like that of the sun. It does not communicate but gives.”
Jagdish Swaminathan was one of the co-founders of short-lived artists group "Group-1890" founded in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, in August 1962. Other 11 members of the group included Jeram Patel, Rajesh Mehra, Ambadas Khobragade, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Eric Bowen, Himmat Shah, Nagji Patel, Redappa Naidu, and Jyoti Bhatt. Later, he was a member of the International Jury of São Paulo, served on the board of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and a trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
Quotes from others about the person
He had little patience with narrative or didactic paintings, no matter how well they were painted. For him they lacked the mysterious realms of poetry. […] His structures were elemental, uniquely his own.
Jagdish Swaminathan was married to Bhavani Swaminathan, with whom he had two children.