There is no place for thought in the process of painting. Your entire body and mind reach a state of equilibrium […] the paint and the canvas meet in a union in one brief moment. – Vasudeo S. Gaitonde
Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde’s artistic career is characterised by an unquenchable yearning for experimentation and an almost reverential introspection. Gaitonde embraced and thrived upon an ephemeral sense of 'nothingness', a contemplation that would inform, inspire and define his art as an outward expression of an individual’s inner silence. “I am first and foremost an individual. I cannot subscribe to any collective thinking and I will not acknowledge any thought that does not appeal to my reason. Emotions [are] intrinsically individual in their impact and revelation. And what I seek to portray, being true to myself remains personal. I can only hope for a certain understanding by others. That is the reason I don't caption my paintings and why a single colour dominates my compositions." (Artist statement, P. Pundir, 'An Untitled Canvas', The Indian Express, 5 January 2014).
Gaitonde graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay in 1948 and quickly associated himself with the seminal Modernist collective, the Progressive Artists’ Group. However, it was not long before he turned to a more solitary path as artist and philosopher, distinguishing himself from his contemporaries by abandoning figuration and turning instead to colour and light as his subjects. As critic Holland Cotter stated, “He learned to use color as an independent expressive element and to break representational forms down to their abstract core. In doing so, he revealed an important historical truth: Indian painting had always been, fundamentally, about abstraction.” (H. Cotter, ‘An Indian Modernist with a Global Gaze’, The New York Times, 1 January 2015)
Set upon this path of non-objective painting, in 1964 Gaitonde travelled to New York on a Rockefeller Fund Fellowship, where he saw the techniques and sensibilities of the Abstract Expressionist colour field painter Mark Rothko. He also witnessed first-hand the rise of the Conceptual Artists like Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth whose philosophy championed the primacy of the metaphysical concept in the artist's own mind as art. The philosophical mantra of Conceptual Art that the physical art produced became the final manifestation of an idea from within the artist's consciousness, mirrored Gaitonde’s own sensibilities. As Gaitonde describes, "A painting always exists within you, even before you actually start to paint. You just have to make yourself the perfect machine to express what is already there." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated).
Gaitonde completed the present painting in 1973, when his practice had become increasingly refined and sophisticated, characterised by his command over colour, light and texture. Meticulously manipulating different tones and shades on the canvas, this painting is both dense and weightless, maintaining a fine tension between sound and silence and between the translucent surface and almost primordial background. In a rare interview following his move to Delhi, Gaitonde explained, "Everything starts from silence. The silence of the brush. The silence of the canvas. The silence of the painting knife. The painter starts by absorbing all these silences. You are not partial in the sense that no one part of you is working there. Your entire being is. Your entire being is working together with the brush, the painting knife, the canvas to absorb that silence and create." (Artist statement, The Illustrated Weekly of India, 7-13 September, 1991, p. 24)
Gaitonde was a quiet painter whose creativity, technical virtuosity and unique artistic philosophy led him to become an ambassador for South Asian Art the world over. In recent years the global recognition and appreciation for Gaitonde’s accomplishments have led to major institutional retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, in 2014-16.