Born in Nagpur to Goan parents, Gaitonde was brought up in a working class tenement in Khotachiwadi in Girgaon. He attended the J.J. School of Art in Bombay where he came into contact with fellow artists Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Sayed Haider Raza and Francis Newton Souza. Gaitonde's brief association with PAG and later the Bombay Group brought him into contact with the influential teacher Shankar B. Palsikar who was to introduce Gaitonde to the Indian miniature watercolour technique, that involved the burnishing of pigment that allowed the application of layers of colour resulting in subtle colour harmonies. (S. Poddar, V.S. Gaitonde, Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, pp. 19-20). Along with this absorption of traditional Indian painting techniques, Gaitonde was also influenced by the work of the German Expressionist Paul Klee who was to shape his artistic output during the 1950s.
By 1963, the year this work was painted, Gaitonde was beginning to receive recognition outside of India. Successful exhibitions at Gallery 63 in New York and Gallery One in London resulted in Gaitonde receiving a prestigious Rockefeller Fellowship in 1964 for a year long stay in New York, including a stipend to travel to Bangkok, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
The present work typifies Gaitonde’s paintings from this period marked by the artist's movement away from the Klee inspired geometric patterns of his 1950s works towards abstracted shapes and the development of a meditative palette. At this time, Gaitonde began to experiment with a paint roller and palette knife. His practice involved the application of multiple translucent layers of paint to the surface of his canvases, followed by the removal and then re-application of pigment. This laborious process resulted in the achievement of radiant luminosity through varying depths of light and colour, creating subtle textural structures and forms that emerged along perceived horizons.
Gaitonde produced very few canvases during his lifetime, partly due to his meticulous approach. The artist 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. In the artist’s own words: “A painting is simply a painting—a play of light and color. 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.’ (M. Menezes, “The Meditative Brushstroke,” ART India Magazine, Vol. III, Issue III, 1998, p. 69)
Although the majority of his works are abstract in composition, the artist preferred the term ‘non-objective’ to describe his work. Although Gaitonde chose not to identify with a particular artistic group or genre, he was greatly influenced and informed by the colour field techniques of painters such as Mark Rothko and Hans Hofmann and his personal study of Japanese Zen philosophy. When Richard Bartholomew reviewed Gaitonde's work in 1959, he described him as “a quiet man and a painter of the quiet reaches of the imagination.” (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi, 1983). The artist Krishen Khanna recalls Gaitonde and himself visiting the studio of Mark Rothko whom he got to know very well. "We visited his studio together, and Rothko was in the middle of painting those black paintings of his." (S. Poddar, V.S. Gaitonde, Painting as Process, Painting as Life, New York, 2014, p. 27). It is interesting to compare the current work with Rothko's Orange Brown from 1963 in the Detroit Institute of Art, not only are there parallels in the palette but also compositionally both works display the distinctive horizontal graduating bands of colour.
Gaitonde's work from this period contains an inherent spirituality, and some critics have identified it as an expression of the Inner Self. When viewing his paintings one is instantly struck by its contemplative and meditative quality. His works generate a feeling of infinity, representing the hidden depths of the world and mankind. Nadkarni identifies an ‘evocative power’ in Gaitonde’s paintings ‘which operates on more than one level. There is a sense of atmosphere, there is an approximation of music and what is more 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.’ (ibid.).
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