Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tyeb Mehta: The legend of modern Indian art

For those who are not familiar with his name, Tyeb Mehta (b.25 July 1925 - d.2 July 2009) was one of the greatest Indian painters from post Independence era (post 1947), highly celebrated and recognized worldwide for his figurative paintings. He was associated with the renowned Progressive Artists’ Group of India. His paintings are known for their trademark luminous colors, powerful subject matter and expressive brushwork.

In India, sadly, we do not have many art museums dedicated to modern art with permanent exhibits. We have public galleries where if you are lucky you get to see some fantastic shows once in a while. I remember one such exhibition from around 12 years back which was showing works by really big names from the world of modern art in India. The names were familiar to me having studied about these artists in my art school curriculum. 
So there I was, walking very quietly, almost religiously, moving from one painting to another, very conscious of the big names behind the paintings, feeling respectful at a distance. But when I came to a painting by Tyeb Mehta, I felt compelled to go closer and preen at the exotic work before me, mesmerized by the vivid and stark colors that he had used. His paintings were completely different from what I had perceived them to be, based on their prints. Thereafter I rarely missed an opportunity to see his work. ( The opportunities were very rare though :-( ) 

Tyeb Mehta’s paintings have a mystic paradox of subject and application. While subjects strongly echo human suffering, trauma, violence and agony, the painting style is highly composed and structured. He would have easily taken the ‘gestural’ path and it would have been logical at that time. But it looks like he had sort of compartmentalized the subject matter from the style and a strong artistic assurance of discoveries shows through in his work. He was a quiet observer who loved solitude and loved reading. Not surprisingly, he formed his own powerful visual language which had its roots from Hindu mythology to modern historical events like partition of India and Pakistan. Pain and violence was observed, understood and finally rearranged in his own way. So, for example when a composition is based on some mythological story, it’s not laden with the usual pomp and ornaments, and when it is based on a bloody incident on the street, it does not display the cluttered realities of life. Everything floats between Tyeb’s artistic pursuits and the viewer.

Tyeb’s color palette is full of astonishing bright colors, as if picked from flocking colorful market streets. Neither do they replicate any pre-established, well received set of colors, nor do they intentionally project an ‘Indian-ness’. They appear to be an outcome of his personal artistic quests. He painted large solid plains with pure hues of oil paints most of the time. The colors in his paintings engulf the viewer in their span, almost hypnotizing, and when the viewer gradually floats out of these hues, he finds himself facing the brutal subject that the painting is talking about. It is like seeing the painting inside out! It is one indescribable experience and I will strongly recommend you to view Tyeb Mehta’s work when you get a chance.


Sophie Munns said...

Hi Debu,
I just tweeted this post... I found it absolutely wonderful to read about this artist's life and work. Its always exciting every 3 years in Brisbane where I live when the Asia Pacific Triennial is on ... to be presented with artists from a lot of regions that are not nearly so well represented here generally.

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Debu, c'est une belle découverte que vous nous offrez dans cet article passionnant; en ce moment à Paris,au centre Pompidou de Beaubourg il y a une grande exposition d'artistes contemporains indiens; des artistes français exposent aussi leurs visions de l'Inde, hélas je ne peux pas y aller mais je vais tenter de trouver un catalogue; vraiment cher Debu, vous parlez de manière vivante de la peinture,c'est un plaisir. à bientôt

Debu Barve said...

Dear Sophie,
Thanks for tweeting my post! Wow, still AP triennial must be a great chance to see some great work from the region.

Debu Barve said...

Dear Thig,

It is so good to know that there is an exhibit going on about Indian contemporary art.
Glad that you like my post,oh yes, Tyeb's colors are really vivid.

Vrush said...

Hi Debu,

Very nice and colourful article like the pallet of the artist in the article..
Loved your post!


bicocacolors said...

thanks for that beautiful post Debu!
I didn't know Tyeb Mehta and your amazing artworks!!

I wish you a nice day!

Debu Barve said...

Vrushali, Elena,
Thanks for your comments!:)

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