PROPERTY FROM THE FAMILY OF A RENOWNED MUMBAI ARCHITECT
Oil on canvas
60 x 40 1/4 in. (152.5 x 102.3 cm.)
Signed and dated in Devanagari and further signed and dated 'GAITONDE 65' and bearing a Gallery Chemould label on reverse
'...The second thing is this, today Mrs. Jayakar took me to the studio of a Bombay painter named GAITONDE - age 32 [*] & one of the finest painters I have ever seen. He is very little known. He's as fine - or superb - as Mark Rothko at his best. He paints in oil - average size 34" x 26" 38" x 48" - 5ft. x 4 ft. a fine person and will be a world-known painter one of these days. You should be the ones to show him first. I told Mrs. Jayakar so. She agreed. Said she'd help. He is 100 per cent artist - a great & sincere ( humble - unconscious gift). I bought 1 superb oil & six super-superb ink drawings.
He is an abstract painter with something unspeakably beautiful & clean added. They are the most beautiful landscapes of the mind plus light and composed with very great simplicity. You too will be very awed by him....'
Morris Graves in a letter to his gallerist in New York from 1963.
(*Please note that Gaitonde was 39 at the time.)
(As published in Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art, Bonhams auction catalogue, New York, 17 September 2014)
Academic and critical appreciation for Vasudev Gaitonde's paintings has seen an unprecedented rise over the last decade. Several books and exhibition catalogues attempt to demystify his art, explaining his 'non-objective' journey with several insightful analyses and essays. One man's insightful and perceptive understanding of his work seems to encapsulate this journey perfectly. Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, writing for Lalit Kala Akademi in 1983, says: 'And talking of music, this is exactly how I visualise Gaitonde's painting, tuning up his canvas, working on the strings susceptible to two complementary disciplines and creating a sound which is unique, complete and spontaneous... I believe that pictorial and non-objective art progresses in alternating waves. Gaitonde has stood like a rock in the sea of fashion. His achievement is as real as it is historic.' (Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi 1983, unpaginated)
Shortly after independence when several of his colleagues chose to spend time in Europe observing the Western Modernists, Gaitonde seemed more interested in the experimentation and creative developments taking place in New York. The heady artistic environment, replete with innovative styles, including Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual Art, inspired him greatly. He held his first show in New York in 1959, followed by a solo exhibition in 1963. In 1964, he was awarded the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship and spent a year in the City, visiting artist studios and museums; observing and absorbing the different approaches to colour, composition and the play of light. A visit to Mark Rothko's studio with fellow artist Krishen Khanna proved to be a catalyst for Gaitonde's own experimentation with large expanses of single colours.
'Gaitonde has already exposed himself to a highly sophisticated intellectual routine. He was both himself a mature painter and was in a receptive mood. He absorbed this experience with a detachment characteristic of his attitude to life and art. What he saw did not create any trauma for him: on the other hand, he felt confident of the road he had already taken and, one may say, itching to get back to work. In the middle sixties we find him already poised for the most meaningful achievement of his career. In every way it was a decisively revolutionary thrust forward.' (ibid.)
Even before his first trip to New York, his early works were heavily influenced by the works of Paul Klee and Georges Rouault. The use of colour and line in Klee's work would stay with him through his metamorphosis from the figurative works of the 1950s to the beginning of abstraction in the 1960s. The play of light in Rouault's works is something that fascinated him from the early years as well.
The time spent in New York proved to be a defining period for the artist. The formal geometry of the 1950s slowly made way for the purer forms he would favour for the rest of his career. In addition to spending more time on the formal aspects of painting and experimenting with the application of pigment and light, he became increasingly interested in the compositional structure of his works, concentrating on a horizontal plane in some of the works of the early 1960s. Up until then, he had worked largely in horizontal and square formats, with the occasional vertical composition. After his time in New York, he began to work predominantly in a vertical format with all other formats virtually disappearing shortly after.
1965, the year the current work was painted in, marks a pivotal year in Gaitonde's career. He returned to India and began to put all these new concepts into practice, marking the beginning of what many academics term his 'mature phase'. Here, the subtly toned background in rich tones of red has been built up with multiple, delicate layers using a roller, creating a luminous paint surface radiating with energy. Breaking the almost hypnotic pool of red are two parallel bands of thinly applied black, within which pigment has been meticulously applied and scraped away several times using a palette knife, creating subtle textures and forms. The two friezes simultaneously divide yet energise the painting. The lower band, with denser and more well-defined forms instinctively stabilises the composition and directs the eye to move from the lighter forms above to eventually rest on the lower horizon. Furthermore, the juxtaposition between the translucent expanse of the canvas, and the motifs which have organically emerged through the layers, create a palpable tension that balances the entire composition together in perfect harmony. These motifs, which will later develop into a complex pattern of hieroglyphic designs 'also perform a stylistic function by organising the formal tensions in the available space and by quietly dramatizing the interplay of light, texture and space... He deals with the canvas itself as an arena of space, so that filling it, lighting it up, forcing it to yield a moment of revelation akin to music that becomes a manifold challenge.' (ibid.)
As Pria Karunakar writes of these works: 'Each is unified by a single colour. The colour glows; it becomes transparent; it clots. It is this play of pigment, as it is absorbed physically into the canvas that directs the eye. Texture is structure. How he achieves this texture is the secret of Gaitonde's style. The rest is simple.. 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, 'V.S. Gaitonde', Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, pp. 15-16)
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 and thought. 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.
'The continual work of laying on pigment, dissolving it, stripping it off, and overlaying (like a process of nature) comes to a natural close as the pigmentation comes to a natural conclusion. The painter is at the controls, he decides when the painting has arrived at its capacity to articulate, yet he registers things intuitively: 'Like music, I know when it is at an end'. So far his visual sensibility has been absorbed in the action of painting. Now it takes over and finalises. He takes his time about this. He lives with the painting; views it continually.' (ibid.)
Gaitonde was very interested in the limitless possibilities silence offered. Only he could use red and yet create a quiet, contemplative work that calmly draws the viewer into the alluring depths of the canvas; opening up a new visual experience that leaves so much in the eyes of the beholder. 'Everything starts from silence. The silence of the brush. The silence of the canvas. The silence of the painting knife. The painting starts by absorbing all these silences.' (The artist in conversation with Pritish Nandy, 'The Forgotten Master', Illustrated Weekly of India, Mumbai, September 7 -13, 1991)
The colours of the original are slightly brighter with greater tonal contrast than the catalogue illustration. The painting has been recently cleaned. Fine craquelure in the thick areas of black paint application particularly visible inthe central spot. A diagonal abrasion to the centre of the upper black band has been retouched and the fine line of retouching is partially visible to the naked eye in angled light. A second diagonal abrasion beneath the lower band of black has been retouched in a similar manner. Further two spots of retouching on the top edge to the lower right band. Overall good condition.
About The Artist:
VASUDEV S. GAITONDE (1924 - 2001)