The Warli painting tradition, originating from the tribal communities of Maharashtra, India, stands as an exemplary representation of the folk art style. Specifically found in cities like Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgad within the Palghar district, this artistic heritage continues to thrive. The Warli tribal community, residing outside of Mumbai, has nurtured this traditional art form for centuries, dating back as early as the 10th century A.D. Notably, the Mhase family is well known for their championship of Warli painting and contributions to the art form.
Their deep reverence for nature and wildlife, recognising their significance in sustaining life, has been a cornerstone of the Warli culture. Jivya Soma Mhase, an esteemed Warli painting artist hailing from this family, played a pivotal role in elevating the public’s awareness and appreciation for this unique art form.
The Legacy of Jivya Soma Mhase
Mhase was born in the Maharashtrian village of Dhamangaon in the Talasari Taluka of the Thane District. At the age of 11, he moved to the Thane district’s Kalambipada hamlet in the Dahanu Taluka. When Jivya Mhase began to paint regularly rather than just for special rituals in the 1970s, the Warli Painting, which had hitherto been primarily a ceremonial art, underwent a drastic change. He was the first to go beyond the limitations of using Warli as a ritual-only art form. Mhase frequently traced his motifs onto canvases while painting. He first rose to fame in his local neighbourhood before being spotted by Mumbai-based artist Bhaskar Kulkarni (best known for putting forward Warli art).
Mhase was taught by Kulkarni, who also persuaded Kekoo Gandhy (an Indian gallerist best known for establishing ‘Chemould Frames’) to host an exhibition of his work at the Chemould Gallery in 1975. This show launched Mhase to stardom and established Warli as a major player in the art world.
The Revival Of Warli Art
His talent was quickly recognised, first on a national level (where it was directly rewarded by senior Indian politicians like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi), then on an international level (Magiciens de la Terre, Centre Pompidou), bringing him unprecedented recognition and inspiring many other young men to emulate him. Regularly painting for profit became a habit for them.
Jivya Soma Mhase encapsulated the profound emotion that drives the Warli people when he said, “There are humans, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Even at night, everything is in motion. Life is motion.” The indigenous peoples, also known as the Warli or Adivasi, invoke a bygone era and a cultural heritage. A thorough examination of this civilization could shed more light on the spiritual and cultural roots of contemporary India. The 5th generation is currently carrying on the Mhase family’s history through practice.
Jivya Soma Mhase’s elder son, Sadashiv Mhase, is also a well-known Warli artist. His use of rhythmic, basic shapes to depict the complexity of the world around him is based on his Warli heritage. Beginning in 1978, he went and performed in places like Delhi, Chandigarh, Odisha, Bhopal, Nagaland, Goa, etc. He studied his father’s artwork to develop his painting technique. He has shown his work in Singapore, Italy, Germany, Greece, Brazil, Japan, and the United States, among other places. Along with his brother Balu Mhase, he carries on the Warli painting tradition. He resides in Ganjad, Dahanu, at present.
Sadashiv Mhase’s younger brother, Balu Jivya Mhase, is equally responsible for carrying on Jivya Soma’s legacy. His use of rhythmic, basic shapes to depict the complexity of the world around him is based on his Warli heritage.
Praveen Balu Mhase
Jivya Soma Mhase’s grandson, Praveen Balu Mhase, is a well-known Warli artist. His use of rhythmic, simplistic shapes to portray the complexity of his surroundings is based on his Warli heritage. He has travelled extensively to exhibit his paintings, just like his father, Balu Mhase.
Vijay Sadashiv Mhase
Like his father, Sadashiv Mhase, and grandfather, Jivya Soma Mhase, Vijay Sadashiv Mhase continues the Warli tradition. Vijay Mhase’s artwork is influenced by Warli, with rhythmic, straightforward patterns signifying the complexity of the environment he lives in.
Evolution of Warli Painting
Warli art extends beyond pure artistic expression to include everyday occurrences. Numerous lifestyle businesses, creative individuals, and artisans have recently incorporated some of their elements into this traditional art form. With the aid of new techniques, artisans can create Warli Art that is competitive with other modern art forms. The continuous line has replaced dashes and dots in modern Warli art with a continuous line. In addition to using white, Warli art has been used in a variety of contexts with other colour palettes. These days, Warli art is not just for mud walls. Markets are swamped with items painted using this kind of art, including scarves, clay pots, jewellery, and sarees, to name a few.
To revitalise this ancient craft and give it the needed boost, a group of Japanese artists has adopted Ganjad, a village in the Palghar area. Another community using artists to preserve the arts is Dahanu. These actions by various communities demonstrate how crucial it is to maintain our traditions. This intangible art is deteriorating over time. Numerous organisations have taken a stand and are actively working to preserve the art form. It is important to support this kind of art for use in architecture and design. This way, the art can be sustained and passed on from one generation to the next.
You can now take the Warli art course taught by the Mhase family from our app. Download the app now!
If you are interested in learning more about acclaimed traditional folk artists of India, check out our artist spotlight series here.