Vasudeo S. Gaitonde mastered the relationship between form, light and colour in a deceptively simple yet highly sophisticated manner. A recluse by nature, 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 uncompromising in his belief that art, the process and the final product, is an expression of the inner self.
In 1964, Gaitonde travelled to New York on the prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship where he embraced the techniques and sensibilities of the abstract expressionist colour field painter Mark Rothko, 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. As Gaitonde describes, "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)
Over the next decade Gaitonde's style evolved, further revealing his profound understanding of the properties and abilities of his medium, which he considered the sole vehicle of experience for the artist and viewer. This painting from 1979 is a testament to this mantra and technique. 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 experimentation with the genre 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 finalizes. 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)
The painting offered here both formally and stylistically is an amalgamation of the abstract, minimalist and conceptual influences on Gaitonde's psyche. The vivid golden yellow palette radiates with a visceral heat and intensity. Forms emerge across the canvas creating a beautiful rhythm, like fragments of calligraphy and context. These calligraphic arrangements present themselves, as if Rorschach inkblot drawings, reappearing and disappearing in and out of our consciousness. The abstract hieroglyphs emanating from the sea of yellows and browns stem from Gaitonde's engagement with Zen Buddhism - combining notions of both subjective experience and empirical wisdom. This canvas 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. Similar to ideas of Gaitonde's Conceptualist contemporaries in New York during the 1960s, art becomes the manifestation of an idea in the mind of the artist, but one that is open to interpretation. The architectonic forms offer a formal stability to the pulsating pools of pigment, and are epicentres from which this torrent of meditation gravitates. Gaitonde's meticulous process is a vehicle of thought and experience.
Gaitonde's unique combination of control, colour and expression imbues this canvas with a vitality and sublimation that transcends any single style or technique in abstract painting. This particular painting exalts a juxtaposition of reticence and expansiveness, Jaya Appasamy notes, "The whole composition is more or less one colour in which the gentle gradations form a liquid matrix in which small and more solid outcrops of form appear to float. The style itself is reticent saying or suggesting only the least that needs to be stated. [...] The whole painting has a certain expansiveness because the composition is open and can be thought of as part of a larger reality." (J. Appasamy, 'The Paths of Abstraction', Lalit Kala Contemporary 19-20, New Delhi, 1975, p. 6)