- Tyeb Mehta
- Blue Painting
- Signed and dated 'Tyeb / 82' on reverse
- Oil on canvas
Acquired from the above circa 1992-1993
"The painting hung in the living room of Bal Chhabra's house alongside a breathtaking work by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. Through the doors of the living room one could see Maa, one of the signature works by Sayed Haider Raza. However it was this blue painting by Tyeb Mehta that transfixed me where I stood and subsequently became the first work I ever purchased of this artist." - Masanori Fukuoka, Founder and Director of the Glenbarra Art Museum
R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p.135 illus.
'More than for other leading Modernists in India, however, Mehta's subjects and point of view were obsessively singular throughout his life; they left an enduring imprint on twentieth-century Indian art and cultural history.' (B. Citron cited in S. Bean ed., Midnight to the Boom, Painting in India after Independence, Thames and Hudson, London, 2013, p. 97)
Tyeb Mehta and his contemporaries began their careers at a time of great political change in India. Independence brought with it the development of a nation-state that strove for a new identity that was free from colonial influences and focused on the growth of an indigenous Modernist movement. During this period, Mehta and his peers had very limited exposure to international art, relying on the few reproductions they found in art books. As a result of this scarcity of available knowledge and information, a number of young Indian artists left for Europe and North America to further their careers.
From 1959, Mehta based himself and his family in London for five years where he was first exposed to Abstract Expressionism. In 1968, Mehta was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship that took him to New York, where he came into contact with the work of the American abstract painter Barnett Newman at the Museum of Modern Art. He greatly admired the way that Newman and in particular his Onement series broke up the picture plane by using blocks of pure saturated colour. However unlike Newman, Mehta did not wish to abandon the figure from his work. "The human figure has become part of my vocabulary, like a certain way of applying colour or breaking up images. It is a sort of vehicle for me. I am not a minimalist or abstract painter... my work is still expressionist. The human figure is my source, what I primarily react to. But in transferring that image to canvas, I begin to think in terms of modulating the canvas, distributing areas of colour and apportioning space. I put a certain distance between myself as the seer and the canvas as the seen to allow the painting to exist as an entity in its own right." (Interview by N.T. Seth, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 343). While Newman’s zips divided the canvas into two halves, Mehta’s angular lines dissected the canvas into jagged segments that appear to both amalgamate and diverge at the same time. This particular convention was unique to Mehta.
Mehta looked to combine the intensity of pure colour with figurative composition. This was a departure from the perspective and tonal variation seen in his earlier expressionist works. The heavy impasto was abandoned in favour of large expanses of solid colour and clean lines. "I became interested in using pure color. Normally brush marks suggest areas of directions. I wanted to avoid all this to bring elements down to such a minimal level that the image alone would be sufficient to speak for itself." (Interview by N.T. Seth, p. 342). This new phase of painting brought with it the development of a diagonal form that Mehta used to structure and divide his canvases. The artist came up with this compositional device to maintain order within the frame by using different overlapping planes of colour accompanied by the figure, and executed with a sparseness of line that becomes a hallmark of his later works. An excellent example of this evolution in Mehta’s paintings can be found when comparing the present work – Blue Painting, 1982 with his Blue Figure - Standing, 1961. Both paintings are executed with varying shades of blue and contain a central human figure that is the main subject and focal point of each work. However, that appears to be where the similarities end. Blue Figure - Standing contains areas of impasto and the paint application is dynamic and gestural. It is apparent that Mehta’s predominant concerns match those of the early expressionists, who focused more on the application of paint than the figure itself. Blue Painting, 1982, on the other hand, serves up bright planes of pure and unadulterated blues symphonised by the careful usage of lines. Here, the colour distorts for emotional effect and seeks to express meaning and emotional experience rather than physical reality. The figure is better defined and purposefully set apart from the background so that there is a renewed focus on the subject. He has reconfigured the woman into individually coloured geometric planes, mirroring the technique he employed while painting his trussed bulls in the 1950s. Blue Painting was produced during a renaissance in Mehta’s career where he appears to have come full circle in his artistic progression, taking the very best from his early work. By the 80s, Mehta’s work had reached a critical balance between figuration and abstraction, with the studied use of lines to absolve the painting of any overt formalism.
Blue Painting was created in 1982, two years before Mehta began his residency at Santiniketan and well after he had established the importance of colour and composition in his works. It is rare by virtue of that fact that is one of few monochromatic paintings that Mehta ever produced. The emotions elicited by his considered use of colour is exceptional in the case of this work. One may surmise that during his time abroad where Mehta studied the various avant-garde movements occurring in the West, he was also inspired by Henri Matisse and the short-lived Fauvist movement. The Fauves expressed emotion with wild and often dissonant colours that did not match reality. Bright, expressive hues were coupled with flat figures and measured lines as in the case of this work. The deep blue colour present in this painting is also reminiscent of International Klein Blue (IKB), the colour created and patented by Yves Klein in his search to better express the emotions and concepts that he wished to convey. Although Klein used the colour blue throughout his career and painted monochromatic works as early as 1949, it was not until 1958 that the blue colour itself became the main component of his art. Mehta moved to London in 1959, a year after Klein made this progression and it is entirely conceivable that he was affected by this legendary artist and his practice with the colour blue.
A decade before, Mehta’s predominantly androgynous figures had given way to a partiality for the female form. With rounded breasts and softer facial features, woman began to dominate his canvases, as is the case with Blue Painting. Yet regardless of gender, throughout his career Mehta's approach to the human figure has centred on the themes of suffering and marginalisation. He witnessed the atrocities that took place during Partition and these scenes became etched in his memory. 'There are chiefly two kinds of figures in Tyeb's iconography: one kind is born of terror, and encompasses his victim types; the other kind is born of kindred hope and awe, and these are his ambiguous divine / demoniac figures.' (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 16). There is a quiet and calming beauty in Blue Painting, despite Mehta’s signature distortion of the figure. The potency in this vibrant minimalist composition lies within the harmony between its form, tone and line. The combination of all these elements makes Blue Painting, 1982, a classic and timeless masterpiece.