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Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

Born 1924. Died 2001.
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Vasudeo S. Gaitonde Biography

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde is regarded as one of India’s most important modern abstract painters. 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.

Born in Nagpur to Goan parents, Gaitonde was brought up in a working-class tenement in Khotachiwadi in Girgaon. In 1943, at the age of 19, Gaitonde was awarded a scholarship to study at the J.J. School of Art in Bombay, where he met 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 introduced 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.

By 1963, Gaitonde was beginning to receive recognition outside of India. The artist 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 Gaitonde; at the age of 33 he won an award at the first exhibition of Young Asian Artists held in Tokyo in 1957.

During his Rockefeller Fellowship in New York, in 1964, Gaitonde came into direct contact with the work of artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement, such as Adolph Gottlieb. The experience must have been overwhelming, giving 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. 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. 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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