Encounters with humanity

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Vibrant colours: Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Mahishasura.’
Vibrant colours: Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Mahishasura.’


Tyeb Mehta was a pioneer of modern art who introduced a new language of painting.

Tyeb Mehta who passed away in Mumbai on July 2, just three weeks short of his 84th birthday, was one of the pioneers of modern Indian art. Tyeb, an innovative mind, introduced a new language of painting by rejecting conventions of building up texture, volume and tonal gradations.

Pictorial devices

He experimented and discovered alternative pictorial devices to create spatial depth in painting by using colour as the dominant element while giving a subservient role to lines.

One cannot easily forget Tyeb Mehta’s paintings expressed in the form of the trussed bull or the falling figure transfixed in space. There is fear, anguish and the spirit of struggle in the eyes of his images.

His paintings dealt with social issues of the time. His vast canvases, telling the saga of human destiny, turned out to be masterpieces. No wonder his paintings fetched astronomical prices in the art market.

Many of his works had a diagonal which according to him ‘dynamised the surface.’ This mode of representation with economy of line, accent on diagonal composition and distorted human figures with their hands and feet held in gestures became the vocabulary of his paintings.

Through his paintings such as ‘Kali’ and ‘Mahishasura,’ Tyeb gave a new interpretation to ancient icons. Tyeb Mehta was a sensible colourist. He selectively used rich colours, may be due to compositional requirement. His works though not merely a means to an end, have been communicative at its best.

Without excessive use of narrative devices or over elaborations of any kind Tyeb Mehta’s works lead us to an encounter with humanity.

Tyeb was born in 1925 in Kapadvanj village in Gujarat. He started his career as a film editor. His passion for art took him to J.J. School of Art from where he obtained a diploma in painting in 1952. During this period he grew close to members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. In 1954 he left for London where he lived and worked till 1964. He came to India and in 1968 got the Rockfeller Fellowship to visit the United States.

His works adorn major art collections, art galleries and museums all over the world. Tyeb Mehta was honoured with several awards. He also made a short film, ‘Koodal,’ which won the film critics’ award.



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