The Story Of Indian Art #28: Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

A look at the life and work of legendary artist Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, who's abstract paintings have had immense influence on modern and contemporary Indian art.

Vasudeo S Gaitonde was born in Maharashtra in 1924. He called his work “non-objective”. He believed that “there is no such thing as abstract art.”

The influence of Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s abstract paintings on modern and contemporary Indian art is hard to overestimate. His minimalist landscapes, reminiscent in turns of Kandinski, Rothko and Malevich, were a bold departure in the history of Indian art, given what critic Geeta Kapur has described as his contemporaries’ “commit[ment] to augmenting its iconographic resources.” But he also exerted a direct influence as a teacher on many artists who would become important in their own right—artists like Nasreen Mohamedi, who refined Gaitonde’s minimalism to the sparest, cleanest gestures.

Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

Legenday artist Vasudeo S. Gaitonde

Gaitonde’s paintings, evocative of subliminal depths, are known for their spiritual quality and characteristic silence that is as meditative as it is eternal and momentous. The plain, large surfaces of layered paint possess an inherent quality of light.

Gaitonde was famously private. He gave few interviews, wrote next to nothing about his art, and only produced five or six paintings a year. Very little is known about his personal life. As the late art critic Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni explained in 1983, “Gaitonde isolated himself very early in his career from everything in his environment which he considered irrelevant to [his] intensity as a painter.”

Rs. 29.3 crore painting by Gaitonde

Gaitonde received a Diploma in Painting from the Sir J J School of Art in 1948, and subsequently joined the Progressive Artists’ Group. Art, for Gaitonde, was a process complete in itself. In exploring his inner spaces and transient realities, it helped him move towards himself. A non-conformist, Gaitonde always kept himself away from anything that would be extraneous to his identity as a painter. Over the years, he evolved as a painter who was increasingly more meticulous in the presentation of his identity.

Gaitonde’s work has been exhibited at several exhibitions in India and abroad. In 2014-2015, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York organised a major retrospective of the artist’s works, titled V S Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life. His work is part of several Indian and foreign collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was awarded the first prize at the Young Asian Artists’ Exhibition, Tokyo in 1957 and the J D Rockefeller III Fellowship in 1964. In recognition of his contributions to Indian art, Gaitonde received the Padma Shri in 1971.

Gaitonde was born in Maharashtra, India, in 1924, and passed away in New Delhi in 2001. While he lived, his work appeared in solo shows in New Delhi, Mumbai and New York; posthumously, his work has appeared in dozens of group shows around the world, and, in November, 2014 a solo retrospective was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which travelled to the Peggy Guggenheim museum, Venice in 2015.

You can view Gaitonde’s work here.

Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.


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