Audio: Tyeb Mehta’s Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw)
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
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TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)

Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw)

TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw)
signed and dated 'Tyeb '84' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
58¾ x 47 in. (149.4 x 119.5 cm.)
Painted in 1984
Acquired directly from the artist by Syed Haider Raza, Paris, 1984 Acquired from the above by Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images and Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, 2005, p. 139 (illustrated)
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

Lot Essay

Rickshaw-pullers pepper the dusty roads and winding inner-city alleyways of Santiniketan and Kolkata to this day, hand pulled carts - now often replaced by cycle-rickshaws. Tyeb Mehta was invited to be an artist-in-residence for two years in Santiniketan in 1983 and the Figure on Rickshaw was painted during this stay. Mehta's invitation to Santiniketan was most timely since his stay there allowed him to recuperate from a serious illness and the cultural ambience surrounding Santiniketan was inspiring and reinforced Mehta's preoccupation with human sufferings and the celebration and appreciation for life within, culminating with Santinikentan Triptych in the following year.

A symbol of human suffering, indignity and yet paradoxically a source of livelihood, the rickshawpuller has been a recurring theme in Mehta's paintings since the mid-1950s. His experiences in Santiniketan and Kolkata are indelibly linked to the further development of the rickshaw theme.

Confronted by the isolated napping protagonist, the onlooker enters the realm of this painting cautiously; despite the predicaments and sufferings of the rickshawpuller, the moment captured here is that of respite. The rickshaw leans on one side as if in empathy with the rickshawpuller's leaning body and embraces the relaxed limbs almost to accommodate the napping figure. Delineated in bold color planes the figure and the machine are clearly defined as two separate entities and yet there is clearly an intimacy shared between them, the flesh passes into wood and metal, where limbs end the machine begins.

As a metaphorical stage for the dramatisation of modern man's sociological and psychological concerns, Mehta's iconic Rickshaw series underscores the anonymity and isolation of the common labourers. "The rickshaw is not a simple means of transport but a sign of bondage, and the slave sitting near it is naked Man, staring into meaningless space, enduring his existence." (N. Ezekiel, Tyeb Mehta, Kunika-Chemould Art Centre Exhibition Catalogue, New Delhi, March 1970)

The viewer is often confronted with the gender issue of the main protagonist in Mehta's paintings. In an interview between Tyeb Mehta and Nikki Ty-Tomkins Seth, the artist explains, "[...] the figure becomes a means to modulate the canvas. I'm not really concerned with the image of a male or female, but with an image which provokes associations of a certain kind which draws the viewer into the canvas. If you concern yourself with male or female images, then you're going into the psyche. Immediately people want to read a story into it. I want to discourage this tangible way of looking at a painting." (Nikki Ty-Tomkins Seth, Ideas Images Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2005, p. 343)

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