Since his early years as an artist, Tyeb Mehta has used the canvas to express images that illustrate the struggles of contemporary society. From the early images of the trussed bull that show the helpless plight of the animal in Bombay's slaughter houses; to the falling figure hurtling toward its metaphorical abyss; to the trapped rickshaw puller who cannot escape the vehicle that becomes an extension of himself, his paintings reflect his own disillusionment with the world around him. His unique formal treatment of the canvas only serves to heighten the impact of these images. The sight of dismembered figures with flailing limbs set against a fractured picture plane serve as a glaring reminder for the viewer to consider and address the violence and suffering that is both around and within. As Keshav Malik says: "His is a confrontation with human dignity, a true meditation on the murder of the human spirit" (Keshav Malik, 'As a Critic Looks at it', Lalit Kala Contemporary 37, New Delhi, 1991, p. 40.)
The 1970's saw a change occur in Mehta's treatment of the canvas that was in part a result of his visit to New York a few years before. The "organization of space and the interaction of color" became important considerations. Large flat areas of color dominated the works, accompanied by figures executed with an economy of detail and sparse, strong lines. This was also the time the diagonal entered Mehta's works. Configured as a bold line that divides the canvas, it also served to give "momentum" to the canvas and get it "activated".
The diagonal, though an important element of his work in the 1970's was not present in every work. In the present work, the focus is on the two human figures in the center. While their individual bodies are disjointed, there is a link established between the two figures that transcends physical contact and communicates a certain tension indicative of the larger social context to which they belong. The details in their the faces reflect the pain and restlessness of their struggle for survival. "They induce a feeling of disorientation and yet the lonely gesticulating hands are tender and open, or splayed for support." (Pria Karunakar, 'Tyeb Mehta: Abstraction and Image', Lalit Kala Contemporary 17, New Delhi, 1974, p. 31.)
The flat vast areas of the gray background heighten the compact central image. Pria Karunakar explains: "Gesture and expression (mudra and abhinaya) become the clues by which we recognize and identify. When the two are brought together within the same field and our awareness of composite structure is strong enough to guide and control the strong pull exerted by the image, then the painting has succeeded in unifying a dual response." (ibid, p. 26.)
The painting is given a sense of balance through the introduction of two triangular areas of contrasting blue and red that enter the canvas from opposing corners. The specific placement of these shapes once again draw attention to the central figures and lends a certain symmetry to the composition. "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." (ibid, p. 31.)
For Mehta, technique and application are critical in allowing the viewer in understand the larger issues of the human condition and contemporary society. "Without the clutter of excessive detail on the picture-space, Tyeb refers us to an encounter - a relevant encounter - with humanity." (Prayag Shukla, 'The Question of Social Content: Four Artists, Lalit Kala Contemporary 24-25, New Delhi, 1978, p. 44.)