Born in 1924 in Nagpur, the artist Vasudeo S Gaitonde has come to be regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters. He completed his diploma in art at the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai in 1948, and in 1950 was invited to join the influential Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group formed by artists such as F N Souza, SH Raza and MF Husain. In 1971, he was awarded the Padma Shri.
Gaitonde’s image, at least in the media, was that of a recluse—a silent man that practiced and whose work was influenced by Zen buddhism. “Everything starts from silence. The silence of the brush. The silence of the canvas. The silence of the painting knife,” he once told an interviewer.
Following an accident that left him with spinal injuries, Gaitonde moved from large canvas paintings to smaller works on paper. Almost five decades after he had been there, at the JJ School, in 1999, the archivist and researcher Jesal Thacker came across his work in a book at the library. Thacker began looking for more information on Gaitonde, a project that led to both the setting up of the Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation in 2005, and the decision to compile three books and a documentary on Gaitonde’s life and work, the Sonata series. “People believed that he was reclusive but, in fact, he was quite gregarious,” Meera Menezes, the author of the biography in the first Sonata volume told Mint. The art critic Roshan Shahani, author of the second volume tracing the life and art of Gaitonde’s Sonata Of Light notes that he dealt with colour like a scientist—considering everything from texture and weight to translucency and saturation.
Despite being hailed as a “genius” by Husain, Gaitonde died in 2001, in relative obscurity. Over a decade after his death, in 2013, his untitled minimalist landscape was sold for Rs 29.3 crore at Christie’s India auction, setting a record for highest selling Indian art work in modern and contemporary art.
The following works are from the Sonata series, published by the Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation.
Vasudeo S Gaitonde is regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters.