"A painting always exists within you, even before you actually start to paint. You just have to make yourself the perfect machine to express what is already there."
(D. Nadkarni,Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)
"In the middle of the sixties we find him [Gaitonde] already poised for the most meaningful achievements of his career. In every way it was a decisively revolutionary thrust forward" (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)
Vasudeo S. Gaitonde dedicated his life and practice to the pursuit of a pure and perennial abstraction. Whilst Gaitonde drew upon art historical influences he anchored them around his own philosophical inquiry. It is often mentioned that this was germinated by his exposure to Western Modernists such as Paul Klee and Georges Rouault and their respective uses of lyrical line, colour and virtuosic command of light and dark. However Gaitonde's enduring fascination with abstraction began as early as 1943 when he enrolled at the Sir J.J. School of Art. It was there that Gaitonde mastered the sophisticated relationship between line, light and colour which began with the tradition of Indian miniature painting.
"Early on, I did both figurative and non-figurative paintings; I was initially influenced by Indian miniatures [...] I started eliminating the figures and just saw the proportions of colours. I experimented with this because sometimes figures can bind you, restrict your movements. I just took patterns instead. I think that step really marked the beginning of my interest and pre-occupation in this area of painting." (V. S. Gaitonde in an interview with M. Lahiri, Patriot, 27 September 1985) This commitment continued to evolve and so by the time of the Young Asian Artists exhibition and competition in Tokyo, 1957, Gaitonde had completely broken away from representational art and began focusing on the interplay of colour, light and space.
1964 marked a pivotal moment in Gaitonde's metamorphosis when he travelled to New York having been awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship. New York in the 1960s was the very epicentre of artistic innovation, overflowing with competing avant-garde theories and practices. Gaitonde's exchanges with this community of inter-disciplinary artists and his inevitable exposure to their techniques and ideas stimulated him to mature his own methodology and personal aesthetic. The work on offer executed in 1965, only a year after his arrival in New York, this painting constitutes a pivotal moment, the beginning of what has come to be recognised as the zenith of Gaitonde's oeuvre. This painting , among the largest of Gaitonde's canvases, is a true tour de force .
Prominent in this painting is Gaitonde's newly adopted use of a roller and a pallet knife, a technique championed by Abstract Expressionist artists such as Rothko. The horizon of black paint, with its meticulous and delicate scraffito shatters through the deep monochromatic expanses of silvery grey. This provides a formal stability and discipline, simultaneously segmenting and animating the painting. Visual comparisons can be made with the work of Barnett Newman, particularly his Stations of the Cross series, produced at this time. Newman's instantly recognizable 'Zips', tear through his canvases with vertical lines which unite and divide his compositions.
Within this horizon abstract gestural forms and symbols unravel, surfacing from a deep silver sea which Gaitonde renders in masterful chiaroscuro as Gaitonde displays his exceptional manipulation of dark and light. Like Rorschach inkblot drawings the forms appear and disappear in and out of consciousness of their own volition. They also resemble calligraphic hieroglyphs, something Gaitonde would champion later in his career inexorably related to the artist's engagement with Zen Buddhism.In perfect harmony with Eastern and Western traditions, Gaitondes painting also 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 they create the landscapes of their dreams. Through careful use of light and shadow, form and space, movement and rest, both Gaitonde and Zao rediscover the traditional notion that the energy of life is expressed by suggesting rather than erely reproducing a subject.
"it was not that he [Gaitonde] discovered Zen but there was an inevitable meeting between a way of thinking and a mind continuously exploring its relationship with the external world". (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)
The 1960s in New York also saw the rise of Conceptual Art, of which Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth were proponents. This philosophy appealed to Gaitonde's own sensibilities as, counter to Abstract Expressionism, it championed the metaphysical concept in the artist's own mind as art. The physical art produced became the final manifestation of a realized innate idea from within the artist's consciousness. The canvas becomes a conceptual conduit, an aesthetic allegory which expresses an inner meditation. The horizon acts as an oculus, an epicenter from which this torrent of meditation gravitates.
Gaitonde was not a prolific painter, only completing about five or six paintings 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 works Gaitonde was adamant that the emotive and conceptual half life was far more transient, "The ecstasy of the moment cannot be stretched over a long period" (R.L. Bartholomew, Gaitonde, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated) - his work is then a record of a subjective moment, one that is both perennial, and singular, abstract and timeless. The viewer must engage with this moment and through their own experience create something new and profoundly personal.