Basharat Bashir

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

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Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (V. S. Gaitonde) was regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters, although he himself called his work “non-objective” and believed that “there is no such thing as abstract art. Recipient of  the Padma Shri, Gaitonde’s paintings are evocative of subliminal depths, overwhelmed by their spiritual quality and characteristic silence that is as meditative as it is eternal and momentous. Although he was not an official member of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG), Gaitonde was part of a movement of artistic reinvention that followed Independence.

Gaitonde was born in 1924, in Nagpur, Maharashtra, to Goan parents. He completed his diploma in art from prestigious Sir J. J. School of Art in 1948, and in 1950 impressed by his work he was invited to join the influential Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group. During his brief association with the group he actively participated in the activities of the group. He had several exhibitions held in India as well as in foreign countries. In 1956, he participated in the Indian art exhibition, which was held in Eastern European countries. He also participated in other group exhibitions held at the Graham Art Gallery, New York, in 1959 and 1963. Gaitonde’s abstract works are preserved in many Indian and overseas collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Art for Gaitonde, was a way to explore ones inner self and transient realities, as well as a complete process of recognizing ones true self. As an artist, he held strong beliefs in his identity as a painter and isolated himself from others, removing any distractions that would interfere with his goal in achieving the purest form of expression through light, colour and texture. Gaitonde’s primary concern was not with representation, but with the painted surface itself. The artist had once said, “A painting is simply a painting—a play of light and colour. Every painting is a seed which germinates in the next painting. A painting is not limited to one canvas, I go on adding elements and that’s how my work evolves. There is a kind of metamorphosis in every canvas and the metamorphosis never ends.”

By 1963, Gaitonde was beginning to receive recognition as an artist outside of India. He held successful exhibitions at Gallery 63 in New York, and Gallery One in London. These extremely successful shows resulted in Gaitonde receiving a prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship in 1964, awarding him with a year-long stay in New York, as well as a stipend to travel to Bangkok, Tokyo and Hong Kong. His travels to Japan clearly made an impact on his work and at the age of 33 he won an award at the first exhibition of Young Asian Artists held in Tokyo in 1957.″ During his stay in New York, in 1964, Gaitonde came face to face with the work of artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement, such as Adolph Gottlieb. The experience clearly encouraged Gaitonde to continue to incorporate and experiment new elements in his style  of painting.

A quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination” as one of his admirers once called him, defines Gaitonde best, who has the appearance of an intellectual, literally simmering with some unexplored thought. He produced very few works during his lifetime, and one of the reasons was his philosophical and meticulous approach to his art. Gaitonde never considered himself an abstract painter and is averse to be called one. In fact he asserts that there is no such thing as abstract painting, instead he refers to his work as “non-objective” a kind of personalised hieroglyphics and calligraphic inventions, evoking the surface painted on with the most astounding intuitions, which he has realised in his inevitable meeting, in discovering Zen. His work is influenced by Zen philosophy and ancient calligraphy. Gaitonde lived and worked in Nizamuddin East area of Delhi, and died in 2001.

Gaitonde’s work has been exhibited at several exhibitions in India and abroad. In 2014-2015, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York organised a major retrospective of the artist’s works, titled V S Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life. His work is part of several Indian and foreign collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was awarded the first prize at the Young Asian Artists’ Exhibition, Tokyo in 1957 and the J D Rockefeller III Fellowship in 1964. In recognition of his contributions to Indian art, Gaitonde received the Padma Shri in 1971.

V. S. Gaitonde was the first Indian contemporary painter whose work was sold for ₹9 million (US$130,000) at a 2005 Osians art auction in Mumbai. In 2013, one of Gaitonde’s untitled painting sold for ₹237 million (US$3.3 million), set a record for an Indian artist at Christie’s debut auction in India.

In October 2014, the first retrospective of his work took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, titled V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life.

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