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    Sale 11512

    South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art

    26 May 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 5

    VASUDEO S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)

    Untitled

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    VASUDEO S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)
    Untitled
    signed in Hindi and dated '1975' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    39¾ x 29¾ in. (101 x 75.6 cm.)
    Painted in 1975


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    Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was not a prolific painter, completing only five or six deeply considered canvases a year. For the artist, the physical act of painting his canvases was meticulous and precise, but it was the formulation of the concept and the incubation of the painting as an idea in his own consciousness that absorbed most of his attention and time.

    An uncompromising artist of great integrity, Gaitonde distanced himself from anything he deemed superfluous to the contemplative rigour he believed his art required. In Delhi in the 1970s, he was “very much the artist in a garret. The few writers who visited him spoke about its dusty interiors, and the immensely reticent resident of the place. Goan artist Theodore Mesquita, who met him in Delhi in 1991, described him as a ‘hermit’, impassive to the mundane world around him.” (P. Pundir, ‘An Untitled Canvas’, Indian Express, 5 January 2014) As early as the 1950s, Richard Bartholomew also described him as “a quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination.” (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)

    Following a 1964 trip to New York on a Rockefeller Fund Fellowship, where Gaitonde experienced the works of several Abstract Expressionist and Conceptual artists first hand, his style began to evolve. Over the next decade, his paintings explored the relationships between form, light and colour in a diligent, yet sophisticated manner. By the mid-1970s, when this canvas was painted, “The planes of paint spread over the canvas, a reminder of nothing other than themselves [...] shafts of light which seem to emerge from the depths. An almost spiritual sublimation gets created from within paint rather than by reference to any school of thought.” (Y. Dalmia, Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, New Delhi, 1997, p. 18)

    In harmony with Eastern traditions as well, Gaitonde’s painting bears strong affinity with the works of the Chinese modernist painter, Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013). Both artists evoke a sense of landscape in their works and the kind of nature that appears in their paintings stems from their subconscious. Through careful use of light and shadow, form and space, movement and rest, both Gaitonde and Zao rediscover the Zen notion that the energy of life is expressed by suggesting, rather than merely reproducing a subject.

    This painting from 1975 showcases Gaitonde as painter and philosopher at the zenith of this exploration. Completed shortly after his move to Delhi, this work represents a mature, confident and resolved vocabulary and is testament to the artist’s technical mastery of form, light and colour. Scrupulously manipulating pigments, the artist coordinated their convergences and reactions on the canvas with precision, leaving nothing to chance. The multi-layered result of this process illuminates Gaitonde’s deep interest in the methodology of painting itself.

    Here, Gaitonde draws viewers in with rolling crests and troughs of burnt sienna and ochre flecked with gold, recalling perhaps an autumnal scene or stretches of scorched land. Both dense and weightless, this painting radiates with an almost imperceptible tension between the translucent surface and darker, primordial forms that seem to lurk beneath it. Layering pigments with different opacities, Gaitonde creates a sense of depth that adds to the hypnotic magnetism of the painting, challenging his viewers to form their own relationship with it and interpret it based on that intense, personal communion.

    Writing about Gaitonde’s work in 1975, the year of this painting, Pria Karunakar noted that on his surfaces, “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 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 [...] 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 [...]” (P. Karunakar, ‘V.S. Gaitonde’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, pp. 15-16)

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    Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Thence by descent


    Pre-Lot Text

    Fifty Years of Friendship: In Conversation with Ram Kumar
    April 2016

    Gaitonde and Ram Kumar first met in Bombay in the early 1950s through the artist and gallerist Bal Chhabda, who was a common friend. Although Kumar was living in Delhi following his return from France, he frequently travelled to Bombay to exhibit his work at the Alliance Française, once even moving his family to the city for six months in 1954. Gaitonde, too, would travel to Delhi for his exhibitions at Kumar Art Gallery, and the two continued to meet, developing a close friendship based on mutual respect that would last till Gaitonde passed away in 2001.

    Over the next two decades the two artists met frequently, even though they lived in different cities, often along with others like Tyeb Mehta, Krishen Khanna and Maqbool Fida Husain. When Gaitonde, Husain and Mehta set up studios at the Bhulabhai Memorial Institute in Bombay with several other artists, Kumar remembers spending a lot of time with them there. Around the same time, in 1957, Gaitonde and Kumar collaborated with Husain and Mehta to establish the short-lived artists’ collective, Shilalekh, and produced a series of lithographs together so that their work could reach wider audiences.

    Ram Kumar recalls that even in the 1950s Gaitonde was completely sure of himself and his work, inspiring a great deal of confidence in him and in many other artists. Although he did not talk about his work and was not directly associated with any particular group of artists, he was respected by everyone in the art world. It was commonly said that when artists like Syed Haider Raza visited Bombay, they would first pay their respects at Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi or memorial and then at Gaitonde’s door!

    When Gaitonde moved to a barsati in the Jangpura neighbourhood of Delhi in 1972, the two became neighbours as well. At least once a week, Kumar would stop by Gaitonde’s house on his way to buy groceries in the evening. A writer as well as an artist, Kumar would regale Gaitonde with stories of the art community, which the latter stood apart from but enjoyed hearing about, and of his many travels around the world. As Kumar was the only one in the neighbourhood with a phone, he also found himself conveying news and messages to and from his friend’s house. Often, the two would go to the cinema together or to the India International Centre to watch obscure French films.

    Along with his wife Vimla, Kumar took great care of Gaitonde in Delhi. Gaitonde was very fond of Vimla, although he categorically forbade her to clean his messy flat. Every day, she would ensure a box of daal or lentils would be sent to him from the Kumar household so that he had soft food to eat given his stubborn refusal to get dentures! Kumar also remembers the two of them buying a colour television for Gaitonde along with Husain and Arun Vadehra, so that he could replace the old box set he used to keep switched on all day long.

    Over the many years of their friendship Ram Kumar also made sure Gaitonde was financially stable when he needed it the most. Apart from arranging various grants for him, Kumar also wrote and spoke on Gaitonde’s behalf as a member of the jury for the Madhya Pradesh Kalidas Samman art award in 1988-89. Gaitonde won the award, and with its substantial funds was able to resume working on canvas after a debilitating accident he suffered a few years earlier.

    In the same spirit, Kumar bought this painting (lot 5) from Gaitonde at an exhibition in Delhi in the mid-1970s. After Kumar’s first choice of paintings from the show was requested by Tom Keehn, their friend and the American representative of the Rockefeller Fund in India, he gave it up and picked this luminous canvas from 1975. For more than forty years, Ram Kumar proudly hung this painting in his home, a mark of the high regards in which he held Gaitonde, and his deep respect for the latter’s artistic integrity and uncompromising dedication to his work.


    PROPERTY FROM THE RAM KUMAR FAMILY COLLECTION