Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was not a prolific painter, completing only five or six deeply considered canvases a year. Although for Gaitonde the physical act of painting his canvases was swift, meticulous and precise, it was the formulation of the concept, the incubation and propagation of the painting as an idea in his own consciousness that absorbed his attention and time. A recluse, Gaitonde retired from any distractions he deemed superfluous to the contemplative rigors required for the life of an artist. Described by Richard Bartholomew in 1959 as "a quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated) Gaitonde was "very much the artist in a garret. The few writers who visited him spoke about his dusty interiors, and the immensely reticent residence of the place. Goan artist Theodore Mesquita, who met him in Delhi in 1991, described him as a 'hermit', impassive to the mundane world around him." (P. Pundir, 'An Untitled Canvas', http://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/an-untitled-canvas-3 , 2014) Gaitonde embraced and thrived upon a sense of 'nothingness', an inner contemplation that would inform his art and as such was uncompromising in his belief that art, the process and the final product, is an expression of the inner self. 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 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 I don't caption my paintings and why a single colour dominates my compositions." (Artist Statement, P. Pundir, 'An Untitled Canvas', 2014)
The painting offered here from 1971 showcases Gaitonde as painter, philosopher and alchemist at the zenith of his career. His fully matured and resolved style creates a harmonious symphony of the abstract, minimalist and conceptual aesthetic. Gaitonde creates a sense of tangibility in the abstract deep pools of greens and silvers resembling shimmering sheets of metal like those of rusted ship hulls sailing across a weightless sea. There is an inescapable sense of surface to this painting across which Gaitonde's abstract shapes dance. Scraffito forms emerge across a focal horizon in the center of the canvas creating a beautiful rhythm. These forms betray Gaitonde's emergent fascination with Zen Buddhism--combining notions of both subjective experience and empirical wisdom. The architectonic forms offer a formal stability to the pulsating pools of pigment and are epicenters from which this torrent of meditation gravitates.
Gaitonde is recognized as having been an innovator and stands apart from his Indian contemporaries for his espousal of a purely abstract aesthetic in art. This influence was germinated by an affinity with Western Modernists such as Paul Klee and Georges Rouault, particularly with their uses of lyrical line, color and light and dark. Unlike many of his Progressive peers, who travelled to Europe to assimilate Western Modernism, in 1964 Gaitonde travelled to New York, the center of High Modernism and innovation, on the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship. It was here, after visiting the studio of Mark Rothko with Krishen Khanna, that he first embraced the techniques and sensibilities of the Abstract Expressionist color field painter, whose use of deep pools of monochromatic pigment appealed to Gaitonde's perpetual tendency towards experimentation. During the 1960s in New York, Gaitonde also experienced the rise of Conceptual Art, of which Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth were proponents. This was a philosophy which, 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.
Over the next decade Gaitonde's style evolved harnessing and further exploring the relationship between form, light and color in a deceptively simple yet ever more sophisticated manner. By the 1970s, when this canvas was painted, "The very surface was the sensuous preoccupation of the artist Vasudeo Gaitonde and he modeled it as if it were his object of passion. The planes of paint spread over the canvas, a reminder of nothing other than themselves [...] shafts of light which seem to emerge from the depths. An almost spiritual sublimation gets created from within paint rather than by reference to any school of thought." (Y. Dalmia, Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1997, p. 18) This painting from 1971 is a testament to Gaitonde's technical mastery of these relationships. He scrupulously manipulates and mixes different mediums on the canvas, coordinating spontaneous reactions with such precision so as to leave nothing to chance. His multilayered paintings, filled with complexity are in essence an alchemistic experimentation with the methodology of painting itself. This painting straddles the duality between density and weightlessness and between form and formlessness producing tension between the translucent surface and almost primordial background.
"Each [painting] 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. 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)
This canvas captures Gaitonde at the pinnacle of his creative and technical resolve and is simultaneously an arena for Gaitonde's direct expression and a window for contemplating a vast sea of conceptualism. On this enigmatic quality of Gaitonde's paintings Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni states, "there is a sense of atmosphere, there is an approximation of music and, what is most important, 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." (Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated) This composition is not weighed down by a singular narrative but is open, subjective and meditative, one that is open to interpretation.