TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
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TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)

Untitled (Two Figures)

Details
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
Untitled (Two Figures)
signed and dated 'Tyeb 81' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
36 x 36 in. (91.4 x 91.4)
Painted in 1981

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Umah Jacob
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Lot Essay

Since his early years as an artist, Tyeb Mehta has used the canvas to express images that illustrate the struggles of contemporary society. From early images of trussed bulls and falling figures to paintings of rickshaw pullers and goddesses doing battle, Mehta's works reflect his own disillusionment with the world around him. His unique formal treatment of the canvas only serves to heighten the impact of these images. The sight of figures with flailing limbs set against fractured picture planes serves as a glaring reminder to consider and address the violence and suffering that is both around and within. As Keshav Malik notes, "His is a confrontation with human dignity, a true meditation on the murder of the human spirit." (K. Malik, 'As a Critic Looks at it', Lalit Kala Contemporary 37, New Delhi, 1991, p. 40)

Executed in 1981, this painting maintains remnants of the diagonal horizon line that marked Mehta's paintings of the 1970s. However, the figures are allowed to exist in their entirety, without the transversal split that allowed them to adopt different forms on each side of the diagonal, giving Mehta the flexibility to explore different means of representation in a single painting. While the segmentation of the canvas is still evident in the background, it has become less obtrusive, demonstrating a maturing of the artist's style.

Illustrating a growing complexity in composition and the facility of line, this painting marks an important turning point in Mehta's work. As the artist explains, "I became interested in using pure colour. Normally brush marks suggest areas of directions. I wanted to avoid all this to bring elements down to such a minimal level that the image alone would be sufficient to speak for itself." (Artisy Statememt, N.T. Seth, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 342)

Mehta's roughly textured impressionistic brushstrokes from his early days are completely transformed at this point into a new painting mode. Large expanses of flat colours, both earthy and vibrant, are paired with a conscious two-dimensionality focused more on line than contour. Together, line and colour create deconstructed figures with disjointed limbs. The presence of the two intermingled figures in this work foreshadows the tangled, battling figures of Mehta's later
Mahisasura series of paintings. As the artist's biographer, Ranjit Hoskote observes, "the diagonal leads directly to Tyeb's images of the 1980s and 1990s which carried the metaphorical resonances of what I have termed the self-agnostic self: the man and the bull who form the conjoined halves of a tauromachy; Mahisha, who is part-buffalo and part god, perennially addressing the Devi, the mother goddess, in combat." (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 19)

An exceptional example of Mehta's oeuvre, Untitled (Two Figures) is situated philosophically and formally at the cusp of a major crossroads in Mehta's life. "In a lifetime's work, viewed as a process, it could be said that Tyeb achieved on the one hand an articulation of pain and struggle and a saga of survival, and at the same time a painterly language which parallels reality with equal resilience. The increasing debilitation of political and civic life around him was witnessed with a restrained economy of line which conveyed both the pain and transcending of it as an interlocked movement of form." (Y. Dalmia, 'Metamorphosis: From Mammal to Man', Tyeb Mehta: Triumph of Vision, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 27-29)
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