THE ESTATE OF KEKOO AND KHORSHED GANDHY Property from the Collection of Rashna Imhasly-Gandhy and Behroze Gandhy
TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)

Untitled (Falling Figure)

TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
Untitled (Falling Figure)
signed and dated 'Tyeb 91' (on the reverse); bearing partial Gallery Chemould label (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
45 1/8 x 36 in. (114.6 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1991
Acquired directly from the artist
R. Hoskote et. al., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2005, p. 182 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

"During the five decades that he has spent in the contemplation of suffering, Tyeb has condensed melancholy histories of violence into austere forms; he has delivered the freight of trauma through isolated figures delineated in planes of flat, pure colour that vibrate against one another without discreet intervals of tonal shading. Armoured only in their fateful heroism, these icons have encrypted Tyeb's private demons while also embodying his intuitions concerning the social and political formation [...]" (R. Hoskote et al.Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images and Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 21)

The falling figure, a subject Tyeb Mehta often revisited, was born out of a traumatic memory from childhood when he witnessed the violent death of a man during the Partition riots of 1947. Mehta first explored the idiom in the mid-1960s. This politically charged, impactful trope, earned Mehta the Gold medal at the inaugural Indian Triennale, in New Delhi in 1968. Painted in 1991, this painting exhibits Mehta's virtuosic execution and mastery of composing an emblematic rendition of horror and trauma with economy of line and colour. "Tyeb Mehta [...] brings about an almost violent rhythm in his human forms. A recurring motif in his work has been the falling figure, which seems to be hurtling downwards and yet is suspended, limbs spreading like a projectile and an expression of frozen horror on the face. The figure etched with minimal lines, manifests an intense pain." (Y. Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 218)

This image draws its power from the suspense, juxtaposition of line and colour which allows the figure to transcend its conditiont appearing almost serene or at least acquiescent of its unavoidable destiny. This painting represents an exceptional moment of synergy between Mehta's artistic and social concerns. The plummeting protagonist suggests a more universal and existential struggle for humanity today. "The falling figure was born from another struggle with the self: while Tyeb had decided to abjure narrative, he found that an accentuation of formal explication could attenuate the forcefulness of the experience [...] This reading also locates the falling figure in a genealogy that reaches back into Greek antiquity, as a descendent of Icarus or Phaethon, the hero punished for an unwitting transgression, an unintended display of pride or recklessness; thus, the evocation of a free fall is also a minatory reminder of the gravity of fate." (R. Hoskote et al., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images and Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 17) This free falling figure represents a loss of control and the inevitable fall of man from grace in atonement for their fateful hubris. If this is indeed analogous to the destiny of mankind, this figure is at a critical moment, balancing between damnation and absolution.

Falling Figure bristles with universal and personal poignancy. Such powerful pictures remained with Mehta both on a conscious and subconscious level as he, "started with images which haunted him, burning themselves deep into his mental circuitry [...] these obsessional images, autobiographical in import, gradually gained significance as Tyeb externalised them, reflecting on them, and allowed them to shimmer against the wider canvas of society." (R. Hoskote et al,. Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images and Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 14)

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