Homi Patel was born in Mumbai in 1928. Graduating from the J.J. School of Art in 1952, Patel threw himself enthusiastically into the artistic maelstrom of the period. He fraternised with colleagues at the Bhulabhai Institute, a home of experiment where Ebrahim Alkazi ran a theatre workshop and Ravi Shankar had started a school for music. With his friends K. Ambadas, Apollinario D’Souza and S.G. Nikam, Patel formed a group that advocated the uncompromising rigour of a non-figurative idiom; he never deviated from this commitment, even though it meant having to plough a solitary, melancholy furrow.
His non representational art evolved through several phases, including a suite of paintings textured after stone, and a series of white-on-white works that he lovingly described as his “Quiet Paintings”. A votary of tachist spontaneity, he practised a calligraphic sleight of hand: cotton-wool quasars imploded on his surfaces, the orbits of subatomic particles zipped across the cloud chambers he conjured up.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Patel had enjoyed an enviable reputation as a representative of Indian art at international exhibitions in Venice, Vienna, Zurich, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Tokyo. In India, he showed with Gallery Chemould and the Pundole Art Gallery, two of Mumbai’s most prestigious private galleries.
Caught in a vicious circle of uneven productivity and falling sales, Patel suffered a narrowing-down from which he never recovered. And then, in the 1980s, came the collages: delicate arrangements crafted from crepe paper, tissue paper and silver foil. Deprived of space, Patel had squeezed sweet water from the dryness of his exile. But misfortune had not finished with him: collectors dismissed the collages as fragile, impermanent; the exhibitions failed. Gradually, Patel slipped away from the scene. In the cynical calculations that had come to prevail, there was no room for an older artist who was no longer a name. Neglect provoked Patel to withdraw into despair and a defiant isolationism.
Homi Patel’s works are in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Jehangir Nicholson Collection, Mumbai and the Tata Instite of Fundamental Research, Mumbai.
He passed away in 2004.