Gaitonde 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 the Progressive Artists' Group 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 (S. Poddar, V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, Guggenheim Foundation & DelMonico Books, Prestel Publishing, New York, 2014, p. 19). 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 and early 1960s.
Japan made quite an impact on Gaitonde aged just 33, who won an award at the first exhibition of Young Asian Artists held in Tokyo in 1957. The year before this drawing was produced Gaitonde had moved towards a monochromatic palette that was in part fuelled by the artist's interest in Zen Buddhism and the principles of calligraphy. Along with the current work the artist produced a series of black and white works on paper and paintings in 1962 that all display similar abstract 'writings' and textural structures emerging from a perceived horizon. The hieroglyphic designs and patterns seen in his sketches and drawings were 'meaningfully deployed in his paintings' performing 'a stylistic function by organising the formal tensions in the available space and by quietly dramatising the interplay of light, texture and space.' (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated)
In 1964, a Rockefeller Fellowship brought Gaitonde to New York, and into direct contact with the work of artists like Adolph Gottlieb and the rest of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The experience must have been overwhelming, and must have given Gaitonde a feeling of liberation in America which was in many ways the home of lyrical abstraction. He preferred to term his works as ‘non-objective,’ and his ideas and paintings began to reflect a sustained engagement with Zen Buddhism and Chinese calligraphy.
Gaitonde produced very few works during his lifetime, partly due to his philosophical and meticulous approach to his art. 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 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." (M. Menezes, ‘The Meditative Brushstroke’, ART India Magazine, Vol. III, Issue III, 1998, p. 69)
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