Oil on canvas
60 x 40 in. (152.5 x 101.6 cm.)
Signed and dated in Devanagari and further signed and dated 'V.S. GAITONDE 1974' on reverse
V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 3 October, 2015 - 10 January, 2016.
V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 24 October, 2014 - 11 February, 2015.
Sandhini Poddar, V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, p. 94, plate 46, illustrated.
From the early years, Gaitonde had a strong affinity towards Japanese philosophy and pictorial motifs. Long before the paintings begin to express the influence of Zen in his life, his sketches and drawings were already making sub-conscious overtures in that direction. As much as academics may emphasise the role of Zen in Gaitonde's art, he was, as Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni aptly says, 'not the type of painter to wait for either an emotional influence or philosophy to propel him... It was not that he discovered Zen but that there was an inevitable meeting between a way of thinking and a mind continuously exploring its relationship with the external world.' (Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)
It is the underlying principles of Zen that are far more relevant. 'It leaves "the open space to be filled in by the mind." (ibid.) It strives to awaken the latent intellect within the inner recesses of the mind in order to achieve greater things, relying primarily on intuitive responses. This approach encapsulates the essence of Gaitonde's painting. The 'mysterious' patterns and 'highly personalised' hieroglyphs that eventually manifest themselves on the canvas are the mind's instinctive responses to sub-conscious thoughts.
Fellow artist and friend, Krishen Khanna, explains Gaitonde's thought process: 'There's a very strong correlation I see between the way Gaitonde thought, the way he lived, and the way he painted. With Gaitonde it certainly is about the spiritual in art, the spiritual doesn't take on a moral tenor, it is very aesthetically defined... the picture is there, as perception... It's a thing by itself... Gaitonde was a very philosophic fellow. Zen Buddhism...it's not a negation of things; it's always seeking a moment in times when things happen, when things come right...' (Krishen Khanna in an interview, 25 January, 2014, reprinted in V.S. Gaitonde, Painting as Process, Painting as Life, exhibition catalogue, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2014, pp. 28-29)
Extrapolating a little further, this approach opens up a world of possibilities and self-discovery for the viewer as well, forcing them to use their own intuition and powers of introspection to fully appreciate and understand the work they are looking at. An introspective process, that particularly suited the current owner's temperament and attitude to art appreciation.
The early 1970s mark a change in Gaitonde's canvases. The dark, horizontal planes placed against luminous paint surfaces give way to a strictly vertical format loosely divided into multiple horizontal bands overlaid with forms that linger over the surface. These bands were impregnated with a dense pattern of geometric, linear shapes, blanketing the canvas to form a cohesive whole.
By 1973, the year of the current work, these motifs have evolved into open structure, silhouetted forms. They are softer and more lyrical, and take on organic, natural shapes that appear to float on the surface of the canvas. Colour, and the possibilities it affords, remains the key element in achieving these forms. Gaitonde was, and remains, extremely interested in the play of pigment and light on the surface and he uses layers of the pigment to create luminous and dense surfaces upon which the patterns can rest. Despite a technique that employs primarily roller and brush, Gaitonde still manages to create texture, which in turn lends the canvas a structure. For him, it is this 'modulation of tone carried by a single surface' that is important. He uses few colours but several layers to achieve the desired effect. It is a constant process of 'laying on pigment, dissolving it, stripping it off, and overlaying (like a process of nature) until the process comes to its natural completion. (Pria Karunakar, 'V.S. Gaitonde', Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, April-September 1975, p.16)
Gaitonde began using newspaper and magazine cut-outs at this time, using the shapes to create these abstract forms on the canvas. He achieved this by rolling paint on to the reverse of the cut-out and placing it on the surface. The works of the 1980s have greater structure than the paintings of the 1970s. Here, the forms are fewer and less complex and appear suspended in a pool of colour, as seen in the present work. In this work, the horizontal bands are subtle, and it is the freely-formed shapes of the impressions of the cut-outs that define the painting, lending it a certain symmetry and meditative order.
'All his paintings share an uncompromisingly vertical format. In the application of colour itself there is an order. This is hieratic but implicit. It is never insistent. The colour settles and congeals into a series of approximate horizontals throwing the compositional weight somewhat lower than center and balancing the left and right of the canvas like the arms of a scale. The order is almost deliberately obscured by the distribution of near-random forms across the surface. These topographical or hieroglyphic forms themselves are made to dissolve into the field like enamel in an encaustic.' (Pria Karunakar, ibid.)
It is interesting to note, that the lower half of the current work is lighter in colour, with far more white tones visible than the greens of the upper half. This approach, seen in several of Gaitonde's works, is contrary to the natural tendency where it is the lower parts of a composition that would be executed in a darker palette. Despite this seemingly contrarian approach, the lighter palette at the bottom does not upset the overall balance of the work, as he is able to balance the other elements in it perfectly.
For Gaitonde, the physical act of applying pigment to canvas was only one part of the creative process. Equally important was the gestation period, where he would formulate the painting in his mind, contemplating various ideas that would eventually emerge from his consciousness and crystallise as a cohesive thought on the canvas. This process was usually much longer than the act of painting itself, and involved many hours of solitary contemplation. It was also a continuous process, as Gaitonde constantly painted in his mind. If one painting was complete, the next was lingering at the periphery, waiting for the right combination of elements. He was deliberate by nature, and liked to 'stand alone' as Nadkarni describes it; a trait that was only heightened by his painterly process which made him spend long periods of time on his own immersed in the silence he so enjoyed. Even after the canvas was painted, he was never in a hurry to show his work, and spent a considerable amount of time engaged in an 'intimate and private' dialogue with the canvas to determine whether it was concluded to his satisfaction.
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About The Artist:
VASUDEV S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)