After his visit to New York in 1967, Tyeb Mehta's work changed dramatically. Though his concerns with the human condition remained the central theme, his canvas underwent a reorganization, both in terms of space as well as the use of color. Large flat areas of contrasting color dominated the works, accompanied by figures executed with an economy of detail and sparse, strong lines. This new formal treatment of the canvas has continued since then with variations and subtle changes. The combination of Mehta's figures and his unique treatment of them lends a heightened sense of tension to his work.
Like the falling figure and the trapped rickshaw puller that become familiar metaphors Mehta uses to express his often disillusioned vision of the world we live in, the Drummer is another avatar in Mehta's philosophical journey. He is a familiar figure, having appeared in one of the panels of Santiniketan, Mehta's seminal triptych that juxtaposes life and death. He had visited Santiniketan during Charak, the Spring festival of the Santhals. The image, associated with celebrations and festivals, has a positive connotation. However, within Mehta's oeuvre, the Drummer assumes a different role. Prophetically, his drums may sound the music of doom, signifying the metaphorical abyss towards which society is hurtling. The allegorical sound of the drums jar us into a reality which forces us to contemplate the violence and suffering that is an inseparable part of contemporary society.
"...The emotional weight he throws into the canvas is expressionist at source, but it will 'freeze' under the static definition of clean lines and angular edges...." His distorted human figures disorient the viewer, "...yet the lonely gesticulating hands are tender and open, or splayed for support...." (P. Karunakar, 'Tyeb Mehta: Abstraction and Image', Lalit Kala Contemporary 17, April 1974, p. 31.)