In Christ in the Desert, Gujral mines dark terrain, moving away from the strong contours, clearly articulated figures, and voluminous forms of his murals. The picture dates from the post-independence period (1947–60), when Gujral was creating moody atmospheric paintings through thick, coarse brushstrokes, heavy use of black, and rhythmic juxtaposition of contrasting colors. Here the desert’s black horizon extends high up into the picture field, partially obscuring the sky. Crisscrossed with heavy purple lines, the desert seems to stretch on into infinity, far beyond the eye’s capacity to see. Perhaps abstracting the weighty subject of Christ’s fasting and temptation in the desert, Gujral pictorializes a profound internal struggle. Abby Grey described this painting as “lonely, deeply religious, hurt as only the world can hurt one who would like to save the world.”
Born in Jhelum, Punjab, Gujral attended the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay, where he met members of the Progressive Artists Group in the mid-1940s. Unlike his peers who traveled to Paris and London to pursue art studies, Gujral turned his back on Western European training, instead apprenticing in Mexico under David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1951–52. Gujral is best known for his public murals, at the New York World’s Fair (1964) and the former World Trade Center (1980) among many other projects.