Tyeb Mehta

Born 1925. Died 2009.
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Tyeb Mehta Biography

In 1959 Tyeb Mehta left India for England where he lived for five years. Paintings from this period are clearly influenced by European Expressionism. The thick application of paint in these early paintings give the figures a sculptural monumentality that is reminiscent of bronze sculptures by Henry Moore or Lynn Chadwick, who may have provided inspiration for his work during his sojourn in England. Other sources of inspiration that critics have suggested, for the distinct sculptural quality of his paintwork, are from Mehta’s many visits to the ancient Elephanta caves off the shore of Mumbai.

Mehta, like many artists of his generation, had been witness to the horrific events that took place in India during and after Partition, and his memories of this period clearly had an immense impact on him and the vocabulary of his art. The artist states, “There were elements of violence in my childhood...One incident left a deep impression on me. At the time of Partition I was living in Mohemmadali Road which was virtually a Muslim ghetto. I remember a young man being slaughtered in the street below my window. The crowd beat him to death, smashed his head with stones. I was sick with fever for days afterwards and the image still haunts me today. That violence gave me the clue about the emotion I want to paint. That violence has stuck in my mind.' (Ranjit Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005).

It was in 1965 that Tyeb Mehta painted the first of his ‘Falling Figures’ series. The work won him a Gold medal in India's first Triennale following which he was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1968 to work and study in the United States for a year.

Following his visit to New York his canvases undergo a reorganization both in terms of composition and application of color. Large flat planes of color dominate his works, accompanied by figures executed with a sparseness of line that became a hallmark of his later works; ‘A recurring motif in his work has been the falling figure, which seems to be hurtling downwards and yet is suspended, limbs spreading like a projectile and an expression of frozen horror on the face. The figure etched with minimal lines, manifests an intense pain.' (Yashodhara Dalmia, The Making of Modern Indian Art: The Progressives, New Delhi, 2001, p. 218). Mehta returned to his Falling Figure series in the late 1980s upon his return from Santiniketan where he was an artist-in-residence.

During his lifetime, Tyeb Mehta participated in a number of international exhibitions at Trenton, U.S.A, Hirschhorn Museum, Washington D.C. and at Galerie Le Monde, Paris. Tyeb Mehta passed away in Mumbai in 2009.

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