PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR I work as an individual. I do not have a scientific point of view; it is mostly my total experience of life [and] nature that comes through me, it is manifested on canvas. For me every painting I do is a miracle... So I cannot really form a philosophy. It is my sincere belief in life, truth, God, whatever it is that prompts me to paint. VASUDEO S. GAITONDE


signed and dated 'V.S. GAITONDE '98', twice signed in Hindi, and dated '98.' and '1998.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
55 x 40 in. (139.7 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1998

Lot Essay

"An artist of singular stature, Gaitonde was known to fellow artists and intellectuals, as well as to later generations of students and admirers, as a man of uncompromising integrity of spirit and purpose. A stringent attachmenet to the codes of painting and the ethics of being a painter distinguished his aesthetic worldview." (S. Poddar, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, p. 18)

The 'uncompromising integrity' that Vasudeo S. Gaitonde is always associated with is rooted in the resolute belief he held in the independence of the artist and the exactitude of the creative process. It is unsurprising, then, that he is frequently described as a recluse with little time for anything that distracted from his practice. For the same reason, he was never a prolific painter, only completing about five or six canvases a year, as he devoted vast amounts of energy and patience to the complex layers of each of his deeply considered compositions.

Despite the time required in the production of his paintings, Gaitonde was adamant that the emotive and conceptual half-life his works captured was far more transient. The viewers must engage with this moment and, through their own consciousness, create something new and profoundly personal. According to Sandhini Poddar, curator of the ongoing retrospective of Gaitonde's work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. "One should experience [the artist's paintings] ontologically rather than in epistemic terms, given their resistence to narrativity. This, however, does not make them unmoored, universalising agents -- rather they exist in time, and are contigent on the socializing factors of history and culture, the very factors that make them modern." (S. Poddar, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, p. 18)

Commenting on why his paintings were never titled, he emphatically explained, "It's not that I have nothing to say through my paintings. I may not be making a statement - I don't want to [...] I am not wedded to any dogma or belief or narrow loyalty [...] 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 why I don't caption my paintings and why a single colour dominates my compositions." (Artist statement, The Illustrated Weekly of India, 15 March, 1964)

Maintaining a delicate balance of light, texture, colour, and space, the artist's paintings are lyrical and luminous. With their almost imperceptible gradations of pigment and enigmatic forms, which seem to spontaneously emerge from and disappear under the almost liquid surface, Gaitonde's canvases elicit new discoveries with each viewing. According to his first biographer, Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni, the artist "deals with the canvas itself as an arena of space, so that filling it, lighting it up, forcing it to yield a moment of revelation akin to music that becomes a manifold challenge. And talking of music, this is exactly how I visualise Gaitonde's painting, tuning up his canvas, working on the strings susceptible to two complementary disciplines and creating a sound which is unique, complete and spontaneous." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)

Sound and silence were of particular relevance to the artist and his creative process. In a rare interview following his move to Delhi, Gaitonde explained that "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)

In his later works, Gaitonde's "belief that silence is creative became increasingly firm, to the extent that his paintings attained an enigmatic quality. He became engrossed in trying to develop the visual aspect of silence. As a result, silence transformed onto the canvas spontaneously as a visual script." (P. Kolte, 'Husain and Gaitonde', From Art to Art - Essays and Critique by Prabhakar Kolte, Mumbai, 2008, p. 82)

In this painting from 1998, one of the few works executed by Gaitonde following a road accident in 1984 that left him unable to paint large canvases for a couple of years, the artist's 'visual script' of silence is at its most refined. As Poddar notes, "The paintings from his last years sustained the great inventiveness that characterized his entire career. But here, rather than overall effect produced by scattered forms, the artist chose instead to focus attention onto a central cirle, a magnet, a centripetal point -- the place of Zen [...] In his application of controlled accidents and consciousness in action -- while savoring the beauty of incompleteness -- one senses Gaitonde's interst in Zen, as it developed in both his life and creative process over a period of fifty years." (S. Poddar, V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, pp. 31, 39)

In this painting's subtle gradations of green we see the mastery with which the artist manipulated his medium; his ability, even in his mid-seventies, to perfectly control light and opacity through the translucent layers of paint he applied with rollers is evident.

According to Nadkarni, terming Gaitonde's paintings like this one monochromatic would be misleading, "considering the luminousness of his colours and the variations they are subjected to." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, unpaginated)

Elaborating on this quality in Gaitonde's work, Pria Karunakar describes his paintings as '"sensuous". "Each is unified by a single colour. 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 [...] In the application of the colour itself there is an order. This is hieratic, but implicit. It is never insistent." (P. Karunakar, 'V.S. Gaitonde', Lalit Kala Contemporary, 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, p. 15)

1998 was the last year that Gaitonde completed a painting before his death in 2001. In an interview that year, he looks back on his career, noting, "I'm still learning about painting, because I believe that the process is constant. Painting is a struggle -- you have to inquire, you have to have a thinking mind. Artists need to be in contact with other professions- music, theatre, books [...] Every painting has a seed, which germinates in the next painting [...] A painting always exists within you, even before you actualyl start to paint [...] I could never stop painting, but even if I do stop, I will continue to talk about it. Painting and Gaitonde are synonymous." (Artist statement, M. Menezes, 'The Meditative Brushstroke', Art India, Vol. 3, Issue 3, 1998, Mumbai, p. 69)

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