Vasudeo S Gaitonde (Maharashtra 1924 - 2001)


Vasudeo S. Gaitonde (1924–2001) was a 20th century Indian modernist known for his luminous monochromatic paintings imbued with symbolic elements and spiritual allusion. Famously reclusive and deeply philosophic, Gaitonde is often described as one of India’s foremost abstract painters, however, he eschewed such labels, referring to his work as “nonobjective” instead.
Born in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Gaitonde graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Art in 1948 and was briefly linked to avant-garde artist cooperatives, such as the Bombay Group, though he remained largely independent thereafter. His early work focused on figurative paintings and watercolors inspired by Cubism and the work of Swiss-born artist Paul Klee. By the mid-1960’s, Gaitonde began working in a nonrepresentational mode, influenced, in part, by a visit to the studio of abstract expressionist Mark Rothko while he was living in New York City on a Rockefeller Foundation grant (an initiative by John D. Rockefeller III aimed at connecting a select group of Indian artists with the thriving New York art community). That experience, along with his longtime fascination with Zen Buddhism, inspired the artist to develop the signature oil on canvas works he’s known for today.
For Gaitonde, painting was a spiritual undertaking to be carefully thought out and executed over time, which is why he produced only a handful of works each year. His technique was laborious; he would build up paint in thin layers with a roller, then once dried, he would carefully scrape it off in areas using a palette knife. To create abstract forms, he would press torn pieces of newsprint into the wet paint and then lift them away. He added bits of cloth saturated with pigment, leaving them on the canvas for an impasto-like texture. Gaitonde also incorporated subtle visual elements inspired by traditional calligraphy into his expanses of harmonious color, an indefinable—or nonobjective—spiritual vocabulary, which remained central to his work throughout his near fifty-year career.
Though well respected, Gaitonde was little studied during his lifetime, even in India, where abstraction didn’t hold the same relevance as in the West. However, he reached international recognition in 2013, when one of his paintings sold for the highest price ever paid for a modern Indian work. The auction was followed by Painting as Process, Painting as Life, a groundbreaking retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2014.
Gaitonde’s work has been exhibited across the globe, including at the Rubin Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Singapore Art Museum, the National Museum of Wales, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, among others.
Born in Nagpur, Maharashtra, India in 1924 and died in 2001 | Lived and worked in New Delhi

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