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Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1924, Nagpur, India
Died 2001, New Delhi, India
Lived and worked in New Delhi

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde is one of the pioneering figures in carving out the “modern” identity of Indian art. He turned from his earlier figurations to highly evocative and metaphysical abstracts. Mostly known for his monochromes, his firm control with colours, immense dexterity in the process of using the palette knife and keen eye for the play of light and shadows made him an unparalleled figure.



Diploma in Painting, Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai

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UNDERSTANDING Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

Movement towards non-representational art

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde is one of the most prominent figures in the history of modern Indian art to paint in a non-representational idiom. He did not start off with “non-objective” works or abstract paintings.In his early works,he painted stylised figures and gradually made a transition to the non-representational form attaining the ethereal lyricism and poetry for which his works are known today. Plain, large surfaces with paint layered subtly characterise his work.

In Two Faces the artist’s transition from the figurative to the non-representational work is evident. The absence of clear recognisable forms as well as the presence of vestigial figurative forms demonstrates the struggle between abstract and figurative representation.

V S Gaitonde,Two Faces,1957, oil on canvas,26 x 20”.

He gave form precedence over content

For Gaitonde, painting was an experimental rather than narrative process. No painting can be limited to a single frame or complete in and of itself.He was known for his exacting standards and one of the reasons why such few complete works remain is because he destroyed all that he wasn’t satisfied with. The subject of his paintings does not seem a part of the narrative and are rather experiments with texture, light, line and form. The colours used are limited and often consist of hues and gradations of the same colour. They have a quality of being open,expansive and extending beyond the canvas resembling a vast ocean or an imaginary horizon.

V S Gaitonde,Painting, 4,1962, oil on canvas,40 x 49 7/8".

Technique of concealing and revealing

Gaitonde’s canvases brilliantly demonstrate the artist’s control over texture,form and structure of the painting. His meticulous process focuses on precision and control.Through carefulapplication of layers of pigment followed by its removal on the surface by a palette knife, his paintings transform generic elements by concealing and at the same time revealing forms and colours on the canvas.As Roy Craven has noted, his works have a spark as well as the control, but they alsolive a life of their own which reaches out and involves the spectator.

V S Gaitonde,Untitled,1971, oil on canvas,55 x 40”.

Embracing Modernism: experimenting with light and space

Gaitonde was a part of the artist group The Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group that played a prime role in forging modernism in post-independence Indian art. Deriving his inspiration from Post-War artistslike Paul Klee,Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miro which he encountered during his few months travelling in the United States on a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Gaitonde began his series of experimentation with form and light renouncing the representation of recognisable form on canvas. He is known for his monochromes depicting his mastery over light and depth and was a firm believer in non-conformism. His works express his self-reflectiveand reclusive nature.

VS Gaitonde,Untitled, 1962, oil on canvas,50 x 30 1/8”.

Insertion of text on the canvas

Gaitonde’s work is influenced by Zen philosophy and ancient calligraphy. His canvaseshave a visual language of silence that has an evocative impact on the viewer. He often employs calligraphic and hieroglyphic markings along with colour and texture in his monochromes that serve not only a stylistic function but also underscores the interplay between light, space and texture.

In this Untitled work from 1978, Gaitonde has skillfully rendered the depiction of light and shade by toying with the formative aspect of hieroglaphic text. They are unrecognisable yet visually appealing with a curious luminosity emanating from them.

V S Gaitonde,Untitled,1978,oil on canvas,65 x 40”.