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signed and dated ‘V.S. GAITONDE 1986’; further signed in Hindi and dated ‘86’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 29 7/8 in. (100 x 76 cm.)
Painted in 1986
Pundole Gallery, Bombay
The Collection of Ursula Bickelmann-Aldinger
Christie’s New York, 20 March 2013, lot 31
Acquired from the above by the present owner
U. Bickelmann-Aldinger, “Man by Nature is an Artist”, in: M. Mann (ed.), Santiniketan-Hellerau: Universalist Education in the Pedagogic Province (International conference held at Humboldt University Berlin, 7-9 October 2011), Heidelberg (illustrated)
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Damian Vesey
Damian Vesey

Lot Essay

For Vasudeo S. Gaitonde the process of creating an artwork was rigorous, holistic and all-consuming. As a result, he was never a prolific painter, completing only a few canvases each year. For the artist, the physical act of painting was meticulous and precise, but the result of a method that was as much spiritual as it was physical. An uncompromising artist, Gaitonde distanced himself from anything he deemed superfluous to the contemplative rigour he believed his art required. In Delhi in the 1980s, Gaitonde 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)

Following a 1964 trip to New York on a Rockefeller Fund Fellowship, where Gaitonde experienced the works of several Abstract Expressionist and Conceptual artists in person for the first time, 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-1980s, 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.

Following a serious accident in 1984 that prevented him from working on large canvases, the present painting marks Gaitonde’s triumphant return. This painting from 1986 showcases Gaitonde as painter and philosopher at the zenith of this exploration, representing a mature, confident and resolved vocabulary that is testament to the artist’s technical mastery of form, light and colour. Scrupulously manipulating pigments, Gaitonde coordinated their convergences and reactions on the canvas with precision, leaving nothing to chance. The multi-layered result of this process illuminates his deep interest in the methodology of painting itself. The artist’s unique combination of control and expression imbues this canvas with a vitality and sublimation that transcends any single style or technique in abstract painting. This painting exalts the juxtaposition of reticence and expansiveness. “The whole composition is more or less one colour in which the gentle gradations form a liquid matrix in which small and more solid outcrops of form appear to float. The style itself is reticent saying or suggesting only the least that needs to be stated. [...] The whole painting has a certain expansiveness because the composition is open and can be thought of as part of a larger reality.” (J. Appasamy, ‘The Paths of Abstraction’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, p. 6)

Like a virtuosic conductor, Gaitonde draws viewers into his composition. Quite different from his more melancholic and subdued paintings, the flame-hued composition blazes with light and energy. Amidst veils of ochres and golden yellow paint, forms emerge across the canvas creating a beautiful rhythm, like allusive fragments of calligraphy. Gaitonde’s meticulous process is a spiritual and conceptual journey that comes to life in this painting. With each viewing, the experience is emotive and dynamic, and this masterpiece presents new windows into an otherwise unreachable and intangible reality.

Gaitonde’s paintings are not simply material objects, they are sensory experiences that fully engage the viewer with their spellbinding power and magic.

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