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Gieve Patel

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1940, Mumbai
Lives and works in Mumbai

Gieve Patel is a multi-talented, practicing physician; an artist, a poet and a playwright whose works engages with quotidian aspirations as well as a sharp, politically engaged awareness of reality. Primarily a painter, he is known for his series on Wells, Skulls and Clouds.

Education

1964

Graduated as Doctor of Medicine from Grant Medical College, Mumbai

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Gieve Patel

Gieve Patel's choice of profession was dictated by his past.

Gieve Patel is a poet, physician, playwright and painter all rolled into one, and a retrospective of his works at Chemould Gallery, Mumbai, from the 1970s to 2007 is evidence of how he’s managed to skilfully juggle all these varied interests. Perhaps what helps is that he believes each one is separate and independent of the other. He’s never tried to be multi-disciplinary and sees each discipline as wholly integrated in itself. However the liking he developed for art and sculpture was because the love for these was instilled into him at an early age.

The emphasis on keen observation and anatomy can be attributed to his training as a physician. Like his art, Patel’s poems often foreground the body and its stark functions, which becomes a living metaphor. Not only that, the speaker’s background as a doctor found its way into his work in the form of a series of paintings on violent deaths: however, there is always some redeeming value to be found in the depiction.

Gieve Patel is primarily a painter by profession. He has also experimented with sculptures. He is credited with designing the logo for India Foundation for the Arts.

Gieve Patel, Daphne, 2006, oil on canvas, 7.5 x 15 x 2.3”

Logo of India Foundation for the Arts

Gieve Patel has explored the theme of wells extensively in his works.

In his well paintings devoid of the self/subject, Gieve Patel creates the metaphor for self observation using artistic devices of light, structure, and reflections of sky and foliage in the wells.

Patel has said, of this series:"From boyhood onwards, I have never been able to pass by a well without looking into it. But it was only at the age of 50 that I first attempted to make a painting of this experience. I believed at that time that one or two paintings would be sufficient to cover the ground. However I found that the subject was inexhaustible.”

Patel often creates picture puzzles in his well series, with a large central circle, that can be taken to be the opening of the well with the viewer either looking down at the reflected surface or looking up at the world through its water. A similar approach can be seen in his skull and cloud drawings where endless possibilities and differences of potential are explored in the subject. In a way, there is an intense psychological interrogation which is conveyed subtly through art.

Gieve Patel , Looking into a Well: Bougainvilleae, 2010 ,oil on canvas,96 x 96 inches/ 243.84 x 243.84 cms.

Gieve Patel, Cloud 10, 2007, ink on paper, 6 x 11"

Patel engages with quotidian aspirations and politically engaged awareness of reality

An avant-garde artist based in Bombay, Patel is primarily a figurative painter whose central character is the subaltern figure -the victim of power structures, the individual who is located at the lowest strata of society’s rigid  hierarchies.

Urban workers, beggars, and slum-dwellers often feature in Patel’s works. In "Gallery of Man" series, the artist poignantly depicts marginal figures like a eunuch, a drowned woman, and a leper thus foregrounding realities of inequality, discrimination and gender. Even mythological characters like Daphne and Eklavya are victims of unjust social norms. In works like Crushed Head (1984) and Battered Man in Landscape (1993), victimized heads and torsos narrate a tale of urban violence and alienation.

Gieve Patel, Near the busstop, 1991, ​oil on canvas, 58 x 71”

Gieve Patel, Man in the rain with bread and bananas, watercolour on canvas

Grotesque is an important motif in Patel's works.

Patel’s works are often populated with corpses, carcasses, chopped hands, and violent imagery. In his Crow series, Patel depicts the insides of a dead mammal with anatomical precision and dry humour. The tension and the implied violence render his work provocative with dramatic overtones.

Patel in an interview elaborates on his works “Within each one of us exist deep springs of violence. I am aware of them in myself. They can be overwhelming. Works depicting violence are a way of dealing with this unmanageable material. Often, these are acts of closure, telling you about the things you have already dealt with. If these works are brought off as they should be, they could initiate corresponding capabilities in the viewer's psyche.”

Deformation and mutilation is central to his imagery. It is interesting to note that Patel who is a practising physician uses corporeal distortion to illustrate helplessness and sublime truths. In Four Meditations on Old Age, the artist uses texture and colour to convey a sense of apathy and despair.

Gieve Patel, Crows with debris, 1999, oil on canvas, 32 x 28”

Gieve Patel, Four Meditations on Old Age, 2013, oil on canvas board, 24 x 18”

Patel defies perspective and depth.

Patel deliberately undermines the classical European obsession with perspective and depth. He chooses a different trajectory altogether - he starts exploring textural surfaces and single solid colours, such as In Shipbuilding in Mumbai (2005) or Stroll (1997). In the afore-mentioned works, Patel uses texture and pattern to define objects. The single viewpoint which is the street level view is privileged. Moving from single basic colours to adventurous vivid hues, the artist successfully manages to make a transition from dark shades to more bright and luminous colours.

Gieve Patel, Bicyclist in a Field, 1979, oil on canvas,66 x 40”