Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde was born in the year 1924 at Nagpur, Maharashtra. Little did his parents know that they had given birth to who would go on to become India’s foremost abstract painters. He was an artist with an unwavering spirit of integrity and purpose. This spirit made him well-liked and respectable amongst peers, intellectuals and students. He was a man who never compromised on codes and ethics that make up a painter this gave him a very different aesthetic worldview. With a short, stocky body but a larger than life confidence, Gaitonde has always had a one-track focus on his artistic practice. He was a man of very few words and focused more on observing than speaking. He was an aficionado of Indian and Western arts like classical music, poetry, cinema and literature. He devoted his entire life to the arts both by involving himself in them and appreciating the.
He cut all ties with his Goan family early on in his career and became briefly associated with an art group called ‘Progressive Artist’s Group’. Gaitonde was known as a man of solitude but his autobiography reveals that this was not always self-imposed. He just preferred being alone with his wonderful thoughts. This does not mean that he had no friends. Ram Kumar one of his dear friends recalls that the spirited artist suffered from a sense of loneliness during his later years. Gaitonde’s works from 1959 were consistently nonrepresentational and are known to not carry any intrinsic meaning, they must be dealt on uncompromised terms.
The artist spent his early days in Goa but moved to Bombay at quite a young age. He then went on to Khotachiwadi in Gurgaon staying in a working-class tenement. He recollects his difficult times and him sleeping under a staircase. He graduated from J.J. School of Art in Bombay in 1948 and from 1948 to 1950 became a fellow there. He studied under the professor Jagannath M. Ahivasi who helped familiarise the young artist with various compositional techniques used in Indian mural painting and miniature painting. He began his non-representational works during the 1950s. He referred to these paintings as “non-objective” and non-figurative. Gaitonde also made a short-lived foray into printmaking in 1957 with his few peers and this is when he achieved his first big financial break.
He was the winner of the Fleischmann Prize which was a part of the First Young Asian Artists Exhibition organised in Tokyo by the Japan Cultural Forum, In 1959 he totally changed his career path by stopping his working with coloured watercolours and pastels. He also stopped utilizing the brush as a stand-alone tool for his canvases. He began using roller works on both his works on canvas and on paper. He then shifted to a monochromatic palette in the year 1961 and used just ink or ink and wash on paper. In the year 1962, he made a suite of works on paper and these included his two major interests at that time Zen Buddhism and calligraphy,
Gaitonde always worked as an individual. His works were deeply personal and he never looked at art as an ‘act’ he only saw it as an ‘emotion’ that manifests itself as an image. He regarded every painting of his as a miracle and attributed the beauty of his works to his faith in god. He used roller and palette knives as painting instrument as well as palette knives through the 1960s This shows his willingness to adapt and change his style. Around 1968 he shifted from vertical easel works to horizontal canvases to the dominating format of the verticals. Gaitonde was presented with the highly prestigious Padma Shri award by the Government of India.
In 1972 with a move to Delhi he began using a “lift-off” process from pieces in newspapers and magazines. These paintings have a sense of gravity-defying weightlessness while not losing out on their physicality and presence. He is known to have made very few paintings because of the investment in the process of conceptualizing a work was of extensive nature. The importance placed on the creative process coupled with the artist’s masterful handling of colour, structure, texture and light came together to alter one’s perception are a testament to the artist’s unwavering commitment.
He created ink drawings from the year 1985 to 1987 because an accident led him to become incapacitated to work with large canvases. His overall collection consists of non-mimetic calligraphic and hieroglyphic markings that are gestures and rhythmic movements filled with a sense of spontaneity.
V. S. Gaitonde was the first contemporary painter from India to have sold artwork for a staggering ₹9 million at the 2005 Asians art auction held in Mumbai. In 2013 one his untitled paintings sold for a staggering ₹237 million and set the record for Indian artists at Christie’s first-ever auction in India.
‘V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life’ was released in October 2014 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
He died in in 2001 in Gurgaon. The paintings even in his last years captured his inventiveness which kept him apart through his entire career. The only difference was that these paintings focused more on a central focal point which is almost indicative of the place of Zen
- Silver Medal, Bombay Art Society, India, 1950
- Young Asian Artists Award, Tokyo, Japan, 1957
- Padma Shri, Government of India, 1972
- Rockefeller Fellowship, USA, 1964-65
- V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life
- Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde: Sonata of Solitude
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