“Luminous, sonorous, sublime and calming.”
That is how most art critics describe the paintings of Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde, more commonly known as V.S. Gaitonde. One of the pioneers of abstract art in India, and viewing his paintings makes one feel that sometimes the abstract is more real than the real. An enigmatic figure with a reclusive nature, Gaitonde's artistic prowess and innovative approach to abstraction have solidified his position as a pivotal figure in the Indian art canon.
Born in Nagpur, India, in 1924, to Goan parents, Gaitonde embarked on a journey that would lead him to become one of the country's greatest abstract painters. After honing his craft at the esteemed J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, he became a key member of the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG) in 1947, a radical collective that sought to redefine Indian art in the post-independence era. Gaitonde's association with PAG, which also included luminaries such as M.F. Husain and S.H. Raza, fueled his artistic exploration and laid the foundation for his lifelong dedication to abstraction.
Gaitonde, wonderfully described by one of his admirers as “a quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination", embodies an enigmatic persona, seemingly simmering with unexplored thoughts. Conceptually, he resists being labeled as an abstract painter, dismissing the very notion of abstract art and favoring the term 'non-objective' for his creations. His canvases become a realm of personalized hieroglyphics and calligraphic revelations, evoking an astonishing interplay of intuitions, which he unearths through his profound connection with Zen. This meditative Zen quality, evident in his speech and silence, finds its truest expression in his artwork. The enigmatic motifs and highly individualized hieroglyphs that grace Gaitonde's canvases appear as manifestations of his intuitions, deeply invested in the essence of their creation.
Gaitonde's art is a revelation in itself, transcending conventional academic art boundaries to embrace the ethereal realms of contemplation and spirituality. His works, characterized by their meditative spaces and subtle hues, invite viewers on a journey of self-reflection. Through his adept use of palette knives and rags, Gaitonde created textured canvases that emulated a visceral phenomenon of color and technique. His paintings are more to be experienced than to be seen.
One such masterpiece is an untitled painting from 1969, that exemplifies Gaitonde's artistic brilliance. The painting, rendered in oil on canvas, offers a window into his profound abstract expressionism. It beckons viewers to immerse themselves in the depths of its seemingly infinite universe. The blue amorphous tone can be an allusion to the expanse of the sea or the sky. Here, Gaitonde's strokes evoke emotions and thoughts, leaving ample room for individual interpretation. The work captures the essence of silence and stillness, inviting contemplation beyond the realm of language.
In a late-capitalist world, talent alone seems frugal if it cannot be marketed. There have so many incredible talents who haven’t had the opportunity to bask in the limelight but Gaitonde is not one of them. He has the distinction of being the highest-selling modern Indian artist, with his works consistently fetching record-breaking prices in auctions worldwide. The Guggenheim retrospective in New York in 2014-2015 marked a defining moment in his international recognition, introducing his art to a global audience. Subsequently, in a landmark auction in Mumbai in 2022, an untitled painting from 1969 Gaitonde sold for a record-breaking Rs 42 crore, which is the highest price fetched by any Indian modern or contemporary artwork. It now resides in the private collection of the Glenbarra Art Museum in Japan. Gaitonde's paintings are also coveted so much because of their rarity, as he produced a limited number of works during his lifetime.
Beyond his art, Gaitonde's legacy also resides in the impact he had on his fellow artists. Despite his reclusive demeanor, he commanded reverence from his peers as a master of the abstract form. Gaitonde's unwavering dedication to the pursuit of painting as a pure medium left a lasting impression on those around him, inspiring them to embrace their individual artistic visions.
The profound importance of Vasudeo S. Gaitonde in the Indian art world cannot be overstated. Even though he slipped beyond the veil in 2001, his artistry will never be forgotten. Each of his canvases is an extraordinary treasure for collectors and museums. Through his art, he invites us to explore the depths of his consciousness, and in turn, explore the quietitude of our own mind. It is with great pleasure that I inform my dear readers, that five of Gaitonde’s finest paper works from the 1960s and 1970s have been taken on loan from a renowned private collector and put on display for the public. The details of the exhibition are as follows:
Mystical Strokes: V.S. Gaitonde
Venue: The Atrium, Gallery G, Bangalore
On view till: July 28, 2023
Follow Gallery G here.
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