Not much is known about architect Jehangir Vazifdar's work as a modern artist — but his son Phiroze is working hard to change that
'Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, oil on canvas'. Images courtesy Phiroze Vazifdar One of India’s most prolific modern artists, Jehangir Vazifdar never sold a single painting — he chose not to. An architect and builder by profession, Vazifdar’s work stands alongside paintings by FN Souza, MF Husain, Krishen Khanna, Somnath Hore, Mohan Samant and Krishna Reddy, in the New York University’s Gallery of Art.
'Colour Alphabet, oil on canvas.' Last year, an exhibition titled ‘Abby Grey and Indian Modernism’ held in New York from the NYU Art Collection was instrumental in placing the late artist on the international map. It was a carefully curated exhibition of works by twenty topmost Indian Modern artists. Among the oils on canvas displayed was a Self Portrait by Vazifdar from 1965.
'Meherbai Vazifdar, the artist’s mother, 1979, oil on canvas.' The late Abby Grey, a well known art collector and founder of NYU’s fine arts museum, considered Vazifdar “by far the most astonishing artist” she had met during her trips to India. While she was travelling across Iran, Pakistan and India and collecting art, Vazifdar met Grey in 1965 and reportedly told her, “Others paint to make a living, I don’t have any such requirement. I refuse to sell my art at a cheap rate. It is not for sale!”
'Willy Brandt, former German chancellor, oil on canvas.' Jehangir Vazifdar is better known for his contributions to the skyline of Mumbai. A JJ School of Architecture graduate, Vazifdar also set up the architecture college, Vazifdar College of Building Industries (VCBI) in the city, apart from the art gallery Studio Windsor.
'Courage...by John F Kennedy, 1965, oil on canvas'. Vazifdar kept his work as an artist fairly personal. He had created over 10,000 works, although he seldom exhibited, and never sold, his works. He did however share them with people as gifts. This is how Abby Grey got a hold of the painting for the NYU Gallery. She tried hard to buy one of Jehangir Vazifdar’s paintings, but he refused saying, “No one can pay for my art. Art is priceless.” Eventually, he ended up gifting her one of his paintings.
'Swami Chinmayananda, 1972, oil on canvas.' Five years after the artist's demise, his legacy is being immortalised with a coffee table book titled Jehangir Vazifdar – Artist & Visionary, a compilation of his art works, a pet project for his son Phiroze Vazifdar. Phiroze recalls that one of his father’s paintings was given to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
'Self Portrait of Jehangir Vazifdar, 1965, oil on canvas'. Vazifdar also shared one of his works with Pope Paul VI. The painting reached the Pope with the following note written by the artist, “I hope you will like it. Please do not frame the painting as it will spoil the effect of freedom and movement. To appreciate it, please see it from a distance of 15-20ft.”