VASUDEO S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF A GENTLEMAN
VASUDEO S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)

Untitled

Details
VASUDEO S. GAITONDE (1924-2001)
Untitled
signed and dated 'V.S. GAITONDE / 1974' and signed and dated in Hindi (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
60 x 40 in. (152.4 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1974
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by Krishen Khanna
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1970s

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Umah Jacob
Umah Jacob

Lot Essay

Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde painted the present canvas in 1974, a decade after his travels to New York on a Rockefeller Fund Fellowship. By now practicing in a confident, mature idiom, the 1970s are heralded as the most iconic and coveted period of Gaitonde’s oeuvre. His artistic process during the period was sophisticated, refined and all-consuming intellectually, spiritually and physically. It is no wonder, then, that the artist did not complete more than five or six canvases each year.

The largest portion of time and attention during this process, however, was devoted to the formulation of the concept, the incubation and propagation of the painting as an idea in the artist's own consciousness. Only once this gestation was complete could the physical act of painting begin. The technique was meticulous and precise, using a roller, pallete knife and even strips of paper to apply the paint in complex layers of colour to create a surface that appears to ebb, flow and glow from within. Gaitonde's mastery over light and colour is evident in this composition with its pools of blues and greens that offer a formal stability to the pulsating pigments, almost organically interchanging with each other in a silent symphony of colour. To this end, "There is an approximation of music and, […] there is a throbbing mystery about the very process of viewing and responding as if one is sucked into some still centre of hitherto unknown experience." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated).

In a 1975 essay, critic Pria Karunakar discusses Gaitonde’s technique and use of colour in his paintings noting, “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. Texture is structure. How he achieves this texture is the secret of Gaitonde's style [...] The order is almost deliberately obscured by the distribution of near-random forms across the surface. These topographical or hieroglyphic forms themselves are made to dissolve into the field like enamel in an encaustic [...] The continual work of laying on pigment, dissolving it, stripping it off, and overlaying (like a process of nature) comes to a natural close as the pigmentation comes to a natural conclusion. The painter is at the controls, he decides when the painting has arrived at its capacity to articulate, yet he registers things intuitively [Gaitonde states]: 'Like music, I know when it is at an end'. So far his visual sensibility has been absorbed in the action of painting. Now it takes over and finalises. He takes his time about this. He lives with the painting; views it continually." (P. Karunakar, 'V.S. Gaitonde', Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, pp. 15-16)

The present canvas with its cypher-like symbols also evokes visual comparisons with sheet music. These calligraphic arrangements present themselves in purely abstract terms, yet with every viewing new meanings seem to emerge as if Rorschach inkblot drawings, appearing and disappearing from our consciousness. The abstract hieroglyphs may also be linked with Gaitonde's engagement with Zen Buddhism - combining notions of both subjective experience and empirical wisdom. Like the Zen philosophy and ancient calligraphy, Gaitonde's work has an inherent structure and control in the midst of its seemingly free-flowing stream of consciousness. His complex multilayered canvases are in essence an experimentation with the genre of painting itself. There may be comparisons to a plethora of forms in our objective reality, however fundamentally the composition is not weighed down by any one particular narrative but is open, subjective and meditative. As Gaitonde himself stated, “A painting is not limited to one canvas. I go on adding an element and that's how it evolves [...] There is a kind of metamorphosis in every canvas and the metamorphosis never ends." (M. Menezes, 'The Meditative Brushstroke', Art India, Vol. 3, Issue 3, Mumbai, 1998, p. 69)
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