Wednesday, August 10, 2011

V.S. Gaitonde: Triumph of the solitude

This post is dedicated to the greatest ‘non-objective’ artist from post independence India, Vasudev S. Gaitonde (1924-2001), popularly referred to as just ‘Gaitonde’. His positioning and influence on Indian contemporary art can be compared to that of Agnes Martin, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko’s. (This is my take on Gaitonde and I don’t think that I’m exaggerating :-) )

It is frequently written about him that he insisted on not being categorized as an ‘abstract’ painter, but a ‘non-objective’ one instead. It is a topic of debate whether non-objectivity is a form to be recognized separately or if it is a subset of abstraction in the broader sense. But in Gaitonde’s context, I think I can understand why he insisted on the differentiation. The answer lies in the modern history of abstract art in India. Abstract painting in India was dominated by gestural figurative abstraction, and the common practice of ornamenting the ideas with ethnic references and cultural motifs. In such times, Gaitonde’s richly evolved forms and luminous colors must have appeared ‘outsiders’ to some, and it is no wonder why Gaitonde himself must have preferred to remain detached from the established school of abstraction.

It was just not only about established practices, but he also remained aloof from people. ‘Gaitonde enjoyed solitude and spent hours philosophizing about art while his beloved Indian classical music or Beethoven or Mozart played in the background’, mentions well-known Indian artist Prabhakar Kolte in his essay about Gaitonde.

Gaitonde graduated from the renowned Sir J.J. School of art of Mumbai in 1948. As a very original and talented young artist, he was invited to join the ‘Progressive artist group of Bombay’, then. Although this influential group was short-lived for various reasons, all the artists from the group created their own successful careers later. Gaitonde chose a path which was different from that of his peers at that time. His interests in linguistics and ancient scripts, his deep study of Japanese Zen philosophy, and his tremendous artistic capacities led him to create his own original understanding and style. His forms are supremely balanced, robust and most importantly they do not carry any forced baggage of the cultural metaphors. Gaitonde’s colors vary from mystic grays to shimmering reds, but they remain in separate peripheries within the painting space. Why I strongly associate his works with Agnes Martin, Clyfford Still and Rothko is for these vary reasons.

When it comes to exploring form, he is more like Agnes, but makes a stronger statement with colors. At the same time he does not seem as keen in exploring interactive possibilities of colors as Rothko. Gaitonde takes a middle path (and here I find a similarity with Clyfford Still) and indulges into form and color relationship. What is common in all these artists is their ability to project coherent relationship of forms, colors and emotions. There they share a same universal platform and create a phenomenal art.

Like his contemporaries mentioned above, Gaitonde had a long lasting impact on the process of understanding the emotional complexity that resides underneath the artistic rendition. Many artists (even today!) tried imitating him, some succeeded in creating lookalike imagery, but none could achieve what Gaitonde did. His innate spiritual temperament and studies of philosophy are also misinterpreted by many by saying that that was a ‘subject’ of his works. Perhaps it sounds more intellectual to quote something around spirituality rather than his painterly process. The fact is that he was an explorer of forms and colors with meditative qualities deep inside. As a technique, Gaitonde used rollers and brushes, and he used oil paints to create multiple layers of varying viscosities, and all of this assimilated on his canvas to bring out a pure experience of sublime quality.

Here ends my post. It should be treated as a brief introduction to this great artist, and needless to say don’t miss his work if you ever get an opportunity. It leaves a lasting impact on the mind!

(Click on the image for the larger view)

Acknowledgment for images: Glenbarra art museum and Saffron Art.

19 comments:

thige said...

Bonsoir Debu, magnifique,magnifique article et magnifique artiste; l'art abstrait est un fleuve aux multiples affluents, parfois certaines de ses rivières n'atteignent pas le fleuve, elles n'ont restes pas moins sincères dans leurs quêtes de l'étoile inaccessible :-) Amicalement :thibault

This Hydra Made Of Paint said...

Thank you for putting Gaitonde on my radar. I also am no fan of the one size fits all 'abstract' pigeonhole . Non-objective I feel is also misleading as these types of work are very much about something. It's just often difficult to define what that something is.

Paul Behnke said...

Thanks for introducing me to this great work!
Paul

notmassproduced said...

thanks for this introduction - I will certainly look out for his work :)

Lynn said...

What beautiful, powerful pieces. I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't familiar with V. S. Gaitonde before this. Thank you for the wonderful introduction.

Debu Barve said...

Thig,
Thanks for your beautiful, lyrical comment.:) I liked the way you've described it with analogy of a river.

Hydra,
I agree. calling something 'non-objective' sharply detaches from mere 'abstract', but can be a separate debate if it really stands strong for what any artist paints.

Paul,
Thanks!

Kate,
Sure, thanks! Yes, I have seen his works several times in India and every time I've walked out in total mesmerized state.:)

Lynn,
Thanks. I'm so glad that my introduction to Gaitonde is received well. In India, we are seeing, enjoying his works for years and sometimes it becomes difficult to write about someone you know too well.:)Yes, it is absolutely powerful work

Laura G. Young said...

An intriguing and informative post! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

Debu Barve said...

Hi Laura,thanks!

Nomi Lubin said...

Interesting. I think here the objection to the word "abstract" was more about not wanting to distinguish non-representational painting from representational -- that is, that it is all "abstract," or at least should be visually. And, so, another word -- "non-objective" sprang up. They are all problematic, I suppose. But, here, at least, the word "abstract" seems particularly looked down upon. Can get a little silly trying to find adequate words. I used "non-representational," but that is as inaccurate as anything; abstract paintings are not necessarily "non-representational".....

Debu Barve said...

Nomi,
Yes, agree. Also, one more thing makes me curious is the intensity with which artists protest about inconvenient classification. There is certainly much more beyond just labeling their work, perhaps basic idea of compartments is not acceptable for many.

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

Gaitonde's work is breathtaking, particularly the last two images.

Debu Barve said...

Stephanie,

Thanks.Yes his work is indeed breathtaking!

Narayan Pillai said...

Great post Debu. I love Gaitonde's work. You can look at his paintings for hours..its like going in a trance. Thanks for this post:)

Debu Barve said...

Dear Narayan, thanks!

Siddharth Gaitonde said...

Words fall short to describe Gaitonde. Nevertheless, Very contemplated efforts by Mr. Debu Barve to introduce this genius artist. I my self do the abstract paintings and i experience meditative peace and satisfaction while rendering the painting.

Regards,
Siddharth Gaitonde ( MFA, Sir J.J. School of Art , Muimbai)

rajendra said...

Congratulations for thoughtful insight into GAITONDE.
The blog is marvellous and extremely well written
The influence of Indian thought and insight into expression.
The Indian idea of expression for wordsand perhaps thought is much complex.
Rather than the thought the THINKING process has been the focus.
Those familiar with the concept of the four step rpgression of expression of a word/thought may appreciate it better. For those who are not let me briefly explain and then connect it to non verbal/non objective expression of experience.
PARA: abstract/thoughtless/ unlabelled experience of life/situation.this may be simply put as deep stirring one may have experinced say while listening to concert. It is entirely personal experience of moments of emotions/
PASHYANTI: The intellect/ mind/ brain vaguely makes meaning out of the experince may be as pleasant/ unpleasant/esthetic etc and tries to shape ideas around it. Perhaps culls past expriences of similar or dissimilar in nature. Ot ia an attmept to make sense out of the experience.
MADHYAMA: the vagueness diminishes and there is more clarity into the experience. Perhaps the mind struggles to understand the experience in more tangible terms with desire to express or communicate to self or others.The mind uses aquired schemata to make sense in terms of forms of expression. Words/forms/colors. May be choses to use certain schema of expression.
VAIKHARI: the form has been finalized and the intruments/symbols of expression ie. Words/images etc are now used to actually express.eg.language of words is the most commonly ised form of expression
so as we go deeper, we tend to be more abstract/wordless/ non objective.
Perhaps this is truest experience of life/ situations. As we climb higher from PARA To VAIKHARI the concereteness makes the expression more untrue.
GAITONDE reaches the level of PARA . Abstraction then had perhaps more concrete(uses establisehed schemata of expression ) meaning for him.
His work always intrigues and leads me to meditative experience.
I think DEBU stimultes us to reach that meditative state.
Perhaps GAITONDE, may have preferred to use ZAZEN a way towards SATORI.

Sandy said...

Your writings about Gaitonde are fitting the great artist,he was a genius way ahead of his and our times...I jst watched a restored movie of him,it was sad to see the last days of this talented man....I wish more such artists are born in India...I myself do abstract art and I very well agree to the genius saying that do not term abstract art as abstract....its insulting to the amount of silence and trance like meditation required to produce such art....Thnk you!!!

Atul said...

he had a great sense of space.
A very seasoned work
A beanch mark for me

Sue Kennington said...

Thank you so much Debu - I am absolutely fascinated by this beautiful work - would you know where any of Gaitonde's pieces can be seen in the 'flesh' ?