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Mysterious and ethereal paintings of a master artist
A master artist who pioneered and established non-objective style of painting in modern Indian art, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924–2001) formed his own distinctive vocabulary, leaving behind a profound influence on the generation of painters to follow. Infinite in their binding spirit and immense deliberations, his captivating visions and intensely poignant images gripped the viewer’s imagination.

One of India's most evocative and profound artists, he left a distinct mark on the canons of contemporary Indian art. Painters Paul Klee, Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky as well as the philosophy of Zen Buddhism were among the major influences on him as a painter. Also influenced by ancient calligraphy, his large works on canvas, mostly monochromatic, exuded an ‘evocative power’. The flat, 2-dimensional pictorial space, held by seemingly floating forms, evoked a sense of infinite space.

His paintings were invariably described as abstract in nature. Personally, he rejected the tag. VS Gaitonde instead preferred to see them as 'non-objective,' visualizing more as a balanced juxtaposition of colors and texture. He meticulously maneuvered his medium on the canvas with precision, building up pigments to only strip them away and unravel hidden layers of the work. The entire artistic process reflected his deeply introspective and analytical attitude.

Born in Nagpur, he studied painting at Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai (1943-48). The honors he won during an illustrious career included Bombay Art Society award (1950); J. D. Rockefeller III Fellowship (1964-65); and Padma Shri from The Government of India (1971). He won the top honor at the Young Asian Artists' Exhibition in Tokyo (1957). Although briefly associated with the Progressive Artists Group (PAG), VS Gaitonde held his own identity. In terms of approach and beliefs, he was quite unlike MF Husain, his ‘more famous’ contemporary.

The reclusive artist did not relish the limelight and banished everything he considered irrelevant to his identity and passion as a painter. A hardcore non-conformist, he consciously stayed away from any distractions to his identity as a painter, and preferred to remain a solitary figure. After traveling New York in 1964, he was exposed to trends in American post-war art. This was when he started using a roller and palette knife, doing away with a brush.

His paintings, invariably constructed with intricate layers of texture and color, were built around minimalist compositions. They reflected his quiet vision of the vast universe, as he carried on with an almost ‘Zen-like’ restraint and resoluteness. Among the major displays of his work are 'The Progressives & Associates', Grosvenor Gallery, London; 'Black and White', Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai; 'Masters of Maharashtra', LKA collection at Piramal Gallery, Mumbai (2010); 'Bharat Ratna', Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; ‘'Progressive to Altermodern’', Grosvenor Gallery (2009); ‘Expanding Horizons’, Traveling show by Bodhi (2008-09); 'Moderns', Royal Cultural Centre, Amman, Jordan courtesy LKA, Delhi; 'Multiple Modernities’', Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA; ‘Freedom 2008’, CIMA, Kolkata (2008). Among his major solos are ‘An Abstract Vision’, Pundole Gallery and HEART, Mumbai (1997); apart from shows at Willard Gallery, New York (1965); Gallery’ 63, New York (1963); Graham Gallery, New York (1959).

His work has also been prominently featured in a series of prestigious group shows at Metropolitan Pavilion, New York (2001); ‘Millennium Show’, Nehru Centre, Mumbai (2000); Singapore Art Museum (1997); Fine Art Resource, Berlin (1997); Gallery Le Monde de l’ Art, Paris (1994); Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (1988); Geneva, Switzerland (1986); Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C; MOMA, Oxford, UK; Royal Academy of Arts, London (1982), Northampton Museum, UK (1960); ‘Young Asian Artists’, Tokyo (1957), among others like Deuxieme Biennale International de Menton, France (1974).

Revealing his mindset as a painter, he had once remarked: 'A painting is simply a painting - a play of light and color...Each (painting) is a seed that germinates in the next one. It’s not limited to one canvas. I go on adding elements and that's how my work evolves.” It was a kind of never-ending metamorphosis in a canvas, extending onto the next one. As a whole, the captivating canvases displayed spiritual quality and characteristic silence – meditative, eternal and momentous, evoking subliminal depths of emotions.

The highly codified works carried an 'evocative power' that operated on more than one level. A sense of 'atmosphere blended with an approximation of music filled them. They gave rise to a mystery about the very experience of viewing, reviewing and responding, as if one was drawn into some ‘still centre of hitherto unknown experience’, as senior art critic Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni had described. In a deceptively uncomplicated manner, he seemed to have solved the complex equation between linear structure and color – akin to an emotionally perceived relationship in which colors asserted themselves, sans any obtrusive emphasis on their physical parameters as paint.

In a way, the master artist was least concerned with the process of representation but the painted surface itself. His ethereal paintings conjured up a veiled version of the natural world. Through a deft manipulation of color, form and technique, he transformed basic elements into carriers of spiritual introspection that made his works into mystifying masterpieces.

Art, to Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, was a process complete in itself. It helped him move closer to his own self, as he kept on exploring transient realities and his inner spaces.