Colour of life

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A retrospective of a maestro like V.S. Gaitonde and in a museum like Guggenheim couldn’t have ended with the conclusion of the show on February 11.

A massive effort like this led by Sandhini Poddar, Adjunct Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, along with Amara Antilla, Curatorial Assistant, had to offer something long-term and that’s how emerged “V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life”, a book by Sandhini that introduces readers to a reclusive artist we don’t know much about. It was launched (by Vadehra Art Gallery and Prestel Publishing) in New Delhi last month.

Unlike the norm, it is concise and not a tome and with the help of some of his major paintings and works on paper reproduced in the book — 107 in total — together with a comprehensive essay, attempts to examine Gaitonde’s life and work. His understanding of colour, form and texture, significant American, European and Asian traditions and movements and its effect on him are lucidly explained by the London-based art historian. “I have hoped that all of my publications are extremely stringent and has that rigour. It’s not meant to be opaque because we are here to serve the public,” says Sandhini over a skype chat.

Sandhini has often repeated her commitment to the public and it is with this deep and long engagement with the subject, that she has mounted exhibitions of artists like Anish Kapoor, Zarina Hashmi and V.S.Gaitonde at the museum. She submitted the Gaitonde proposal to the museum in 2011 which finally happened with 45 works collected from different parts of the world, in October 2014.

“Doing stringent research and then finding ways and means of sharing it with public, I think it is something very specific to an academic. There is perhaps an architect coming to an exhibition for the first time. How do you guide him into this man’s life,” says the writer explaining her approach towards writing the book and her life in general.

Veering away from a standard biography, Sandhini looks at Gaitonde’s art by looking at what’s happening around him. “And how he is experiencing all of it. There is a dialogue between his life and his practice, his relationship with his life and his interests.” But with hardly any literature available on him, Sandhini had to start from scratch. That he isn’t alive and the author never met him added to her work. The reclusive artist remained in his world and hence little documented and with hardly any reliable material on him except a few rare catalogues like the one by Lalit Kala Akademi published some 20 years ago. That, in a way, qualifies this book, to be a quite significant work on the artist.

“Given his stature it’s astonishing that there was nothing available on him. And it was partly with this frustration and partly with the inspiration that I wanted to do this,” expresses Sandhini who feels the book is also a contribution to the literature of the 20th Century modernism growing outside of West.

Her research started by just looking at Gaitonde’s art. “I looked and looked and looked. The first time I ever saw six to seven Gaitondes together — he wasn’t prolific either — was in NGMA, Bombay, in 1998. I was struck by how profound they were, their sense of integrity, quiet and solemnity. My work is research put together in addition to my understanding of his art. I never met him so this is literally my own imagination. And I hope it’s not the last book on Gaitonde.”

She culls out bits and pieces on his life through his friends like Krishen Khanna and Ram Kumar with whom he was part of the seminal modernist collective Progressive Artists’ Group. All this is woven into a narrative that is created of his time spent at J.J. School of Art, his influences like Paul Klee, his journey into the “non-objective style” as he called it, his interest in abstraction and his inclination towards Zen Buddhism, Indian miniatures, East Asian hanging scrolls and ink paintings an his technique of employing palette knives and paint rollers.

The retrospective will soon travel to Peggy Guggenheim in Venice but unfortunately it won’t come to India.

“International lenders were wary about their loans coming to India but I am trying to do the exhibition in India however, little differently. Since the idea is in a nascent stage so nothing can be confirmed right now.”

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 6:23:16 AM |

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