PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT INDIAN COLLECTION
Oil on canvas
23 ¾ x 12 ⅞ in. (60.3 x 32.6 cm.)
Signed and dated in Devanagari lower right
After experimenting with his version of a 20th century Indian belle in the years immediately following art school (see lot 25), Gaitonde’s figuration rapidly evolved into one where geometric, minimal lines overtook the lyrical, fluid lines of the recent past. For Gaitonde, these early years were a period of great experimentation and learning. There was considerable sharing of ideologies, thoughts and ideas with his fellow artists and friends that he interacted with, first through art school and later at the Bhulabhai Institute in Mumbai where several of them had studios. Even though their styles and subject choices may have been different, they shared a common goal, which was to create an Indian Modernism that broke out of the shadows of colonialism, and used past Indian art traditions to build new relevant ones that captured the contemporary reality around them.
Along with his fellow artists, a major influence for him in the 1950s was Paul Klee. Not just his art, as Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni says, but it was the Swiss gentleman’s overall attitude to painting that Gaitonde enjoyed. ‘Klee is light-hearted, light-weight and is imbued with an imperceptible sense of humour. Gaitonde grasps the lyricism, and the linear imitation soon makes way for a preoccupation with calligraphy and hieroglyphs.’ (Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated) Klee’s use of line is distinctive, and an adapted version of his whimsical figures also made its way into Gaitonde’s works of the mid 1950s. The stylisation of the earlier works is now fully realised, with simple, black, geometric lines delineating faces and figures.
Gaitonde, however, was not one to be limited to a single influence or school of thought. Parallel to his exploration of the line was an equally inspired attempt to understand how the application of paint itself could be manipulated to achieve a unique painted surface. This resulted in the appearance of an extremely textured surface, with thicker areas of paint balancing themselves with the flatter areas that reflected light in an entirely different manner. The challenge of balancing line, paint and light on the canvas in perfect synergy was a concept that consumed the artist’s mind for many years, and would remain the essence of his painting even in his more mature period.
The current work illustrates this very interaction of elements. The line is reduced to a purely painterly tool, and is joined by other geometric shapes that come together to depict a human face. The canvas surface, painted in layers of a wonderfully strong red with black undertones commands as much attention for its texture and appearance. The face instantly recalls Klee’s use of line, as does the background. ‘The thin, somewhat mischievous, line and the peculiar lyrical play of colours Gaitonde must have derived from Klee.’ (ibid., unpaginated) Yet, the result is unique to him.
Krishen Khanna reiterates the importance of Klee on Gaitonde’s art. ‘In the early years of course Paul Klee had a great influence on all these painters. It was a new chapter in painting and it suited his [Gaitonde’s] temperament… Klee was a teacher who was painting out his theories. He was very lyrical, and was tempered by music and poetry and that saved him. He made very poetic images... He took off from the figure and melded it into his theory, his colour theory… Gaitonde was a perfect draftsman, he was not slovenly; there are many painters who don’t know what the line can do. He was an impeccable painter… Painting then has its own language, its own resonance, its ups and downs, its own life, and that is what he lived.’ (Krishen Khanna reprinted in Sandhini Poddar, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, p. 21)
About The Artist:
VASUDEV S. GAITONDE (1924 - 2001)